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New report examines UNHCR work in Morocco on mixed migration

Setting the Agenda, 31 March 2010

© UNHCR
A refugee tries her hand at traditional weaving in a Moroccan women's craft cooperative.

GENEVA, March 31 (UNHCR) A new report concludes that UNHCR's efforts to address refugee protection and mixed migration in Morocco have helped to expand protection space but that significant challenges remain.

The report, published by UNHCR's Policy Development and Evaluation Service, examined the impact of UNHCR's work on the well-being of refugees and asylum-seekers in Morocco.

It found that innovative approaches have been taken in refugee community outreach, local integration opportunities and support to voluntary and dignified return in close cooperation with the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Given the largely clandestine nature of migratory movements, it is difficult to estimate the number of foreign nationals currently living in Morocco without legal status. Government sources and independent researchers suggest a minimum of some 10,000 irregular migrants of sub-Saharan origin may be in the country. Only some 750 to 800 people, or less than 1 percent of the total, have been recognized as refugees by UNHCR.

Morocco has a long-standing tradition of hosting refugees and migrants. The country has ratified all the major international treaties concerning migrants, refugees and human rights, including the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol.

A law regulating the entry and residence of foreigners in Morocco was passed in 2003. It contains important provisions prohibiting the expulsion of refugees and asylum -seekers and allows for appeals against expulsion orders. The country does not, however, have a legislative or institutional framework dedicated to refugee and asylum issues

Hindered by their lack of a recognized legal status, as well as ethnic and linguistic differences, refugees, like other migrants in Morocco, find it hard to establish sustainable livelihoods. These difficulties remain a concern to UNHCR in Morocco.

The report identifies the Moroccan diaspora as an untapped source of potential partnership, as they might be motivated to play a role in advocating for the human rights of foreign nationals in Morocco, including refugees.

Enhanced work with the UN country team has increased donors' confidence in inter-agency coordination, leading to the development of a strategic framework for joint action on migration which includes a number of refugee protection components related to UNHCR's 10-Point Plan of Action on Refugee Protection and Mixed Migration.

The report also acknowledges that without the active engagement and support of the host state, UNHCR's efforts will inevitably be limited in their outcome and impact, as the ultimate responsibility to protect and provide durable solutions for refugees lies with states.

There are no quick-fix solutions to the issue of refugee protection and mixed migration in Morocco, and a sustained commitment will be required by all if further progress is to be attained.

The UNHCR report concludes that effective responses to the issue of refugee protection and mixed migration in Morocco will not be found in Morocco alone. There is a particular need for all the key stakeholders, including UNHCR offices, to ensure that effective regional and inter-regional coordination and information and best-practice sharing takes place.

Refugee protection and international migration: a review of UNHCR's role and activities in Morocco.

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A UNHCR strategy setting out key areas in which action is required to address the phenomenon of mixed and irregular movements of people. See also: Schematic representation of a profiling and referral mechanism in the context of addressing mixed migratory movements.

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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.

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The Italian island of Lampedusa is just 290 kilometres off the coast of Libya. In 2006, some 18,000 people crossed this perilous stretch of sea - mostly on inflatable dinghies fitted with an outboard engine. Some were seeking employment, others wanted to reunite with family members and still others were fleeing persecution, conflict or indiscriminate violence and had no choice but to leave through irregular routes in their search for safety.

Of those who made it to Lampedusa, some 6,000 claimed asylum. And nearly half of these were recognized as refugees or granted some form of protection by the Italian authorities.

In August 2007, the authorities in Lampedusa opened a new reception centre to ensure that people arriving by boat or rescued at sea are received in a dignified way and are provided with adequate accommodation and medical facilities.

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During one six-day period at the end of March, more than 1,100 Somalis and Ethiopians arrived on the shores of Yemen after crossing the Gulf of Aden on smuggler's boats from Bosaso, Somalia. At least 28 people died during these recent voyages – from asphyxiation, beating or drowning – and many were badly injured by the smugglers. Others suffered skin problems as a result of prolonged contact with sea water, human waste, diesel oil and other chemicals.

During a recent visit to Yemen, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller pledged to further raise the profile of the situation, to appeal for additional funding and international action to help Yemen, and to develop projects that will improve the living conditions and self sufficiency of the refugees in Yemen.

Since January 2006, Yemen has received nearly 30,000 people from Somalia, Ethiopia and other places, while more than 500 people have died during the sea crossing and at least 300 remain missing. UNHCR provides assistance, care and housing to more than 100,000 refugees already in Yemen.

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