MARRAKECH (Reuters) – Morocco stopped 89,000 people from illegally migrating in 2018, up 37 percent compared to a year earlier, the interior ministry said on Thursday, as the country became the main launchpad in the Mediterranean for Europe-bound migrants.
Morocco, which other Africans can visit without visas, has become a major gateway for migrants into Europe since Italy’s tougher line and EU aid to the Libyan coastguard curbed the number of people coming from Libya.
In 2018, Moroccan authorities dismantled 229 migrant trafficking networks, the interior ministry’s figure showed.
Some 80 percent of illegal migrants intercepted in 2018 were foreigners, 29,715 migrants were saved at sea while 5,608 opted for a voluntary return to their home countries, the ministry said.
While some migrants try to reach Ceuta and another Spanish enclave in Africa, Melilla, others pay smugglers to put them on boats, as Spain is just 14 km across the western end of the Mediterranean.
The EU has already transferred 30 million euros out of 140 million promised last October to help Morocco curb illegal migration, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on Thursday at a news conference in Rabat.
About half of the 111,558 migrants and refugees who entered Europe by the Mediterranean sea in 2018 made it through the Western route separating the Iberian peninsula from North Africa, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Some 2,217 died while crossing the Mediterranean including 744 on the western route, the IOM said.
(Reporting by Ahmed Eljechtimi)