UNHCR to sign cooperation agreement with the Government of Morocco

Briefing Notes, 22 June 2007

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 22 June 2007, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR very much appreciates the Government of Morocco's announcement on World Refugee Day (June 20) that it will sign a cooperation agreement (accord de siège) with us. This agreement will upgrade the status of the UNHCR office in Rabat to a full-fledged representation. UNHCR staff in Morocco will benefit from open channels of communication with all relevant governmental departments, central and local authorities, and partner organizations.

The imminent signature of the accord de siège is a clear expression of the expanding and deepening cooperation between the Moroccan authorities and UNHCR in the country. This cooperation is aimed at protecting refugees within broader migratory movements affecting the country, and at finding durable solutions for refugees, including voluntary return, self-reliance and targeted use of resettlement.

Morocco was the first country on the African continent to receive UNHCR staff in 1959 and to allow UNHCR to open an honorary delegation in 1965. At the moment, the UNHCR office in Rabat has registered some 600 refugees recognized under its mandate, whereas some 1,000 asylum applications are pending, mainly from nationals from sub-Saharan African countries.

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Sighted off Spain's Canary Islands

Despite considerable dangers, migrants seeking a better future and refugees fleeing war and persecution continue to board flimsy boats and set off across the high seas. One of the main routes into Europe runs from West Africa to Spain's Canary Islands.

Before 2006, most irregular migrants taking this route used small vessels called pateras, which can carry up to 20 people. They left mostly from Morocco and the Western Sahara on the half-day journey. The pateras have to a large extent been replaced by boats which carry up to 150 people and take three weeks to reach the Canaries from ports in West Africa.

Although only a small proportion of the almost 32,000 people who arrived in the Canary Islands in 2006 applied for asylum, the number has gone up. More than 500 people applied for asylum in 2007, compared with 359 the year before. This came at a time when the overall number of arrivals by sea went down by 75 percent during 2007.

Sighted off Spain's Canary Islands