A senior United Nations refugee agency team sent to Morocco last week is still awaiting government permission for access to sub-Saharan African migrants reportedly being held in various parts of the country, the agency said today.
Although no firm figures are available, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has evidence that dozens of sub-Saharan Africans holding agency documentation have been picked up by Moroccan authorities in a crackdown on irregular migration, the Director of UNHCR's Bureau for Central Asia, South West Asia, North Africa and the Middle East. Ekber Menemencioglu, said.
“UNHCR reiterates that these persons must not be refouled – or forcibly returned to a country where they may face persecution – and we have repeatedly sought access to them, so far in vain," he added.
He noted that the team, in the Moroccan capital Rabat, has been interviewing people who manage to get to UNHCR's office there.
The agency recognizes the legitimate right of governments to manage irregular migration, but notes that within such large flows there are often people fleeing persecution and violence who deserve access to proper asylum procedures, Mr. Menemencioglu said.
UNHCR strongly urges the Moroccan authorities to respect international protection principles, particularly against refoulement, and to treat everyone humanely, he added.
In addition to Morocco, UNHCR has sent missions over the past three weeks to the Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta, where several migrants have been killed in violent incidents at the border fences, and to the Canary Islands.