By Ahmed Eljechtimi
RABAT (Reuters) - Moroccan authorities have succeeded in slowing the rate of illegal migration into Spain in recent months after a crackdown on smuggling networks, Morocco's migration and border control chief said on Friday, unveiling new figures to Reuters.
So far 7,202 people have successfully reached Spain from Morocco this year, around 2,000 more than in the same period last year. But more than half of this year's crossings took place in January, with numbers declining sharply over the following three months.
Border control chief Khalid Zerouali told Reuters this showed that government efforts were having an effect.
He said the authorities had prevented 25,000 illegal crossings so far this year, up 30% compared to the same period last year. So far this year there have been no attempts to storm border fences of the Spanish North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.
“The measures taken by Morocco led to stemming the migration flow to Spain,” Zerouali said.
The route between Morocco and Spain has become one of the main illegal entry routes into Europe for migrants as pressure has been applied to close other routes from Turkey to Greece and Libya to Italy.
Last year some 57,000 people arrived illegally in Spain. Morocco said it stopped 89,000 migrants last year.
The vast majority of illegal Mediterranean crossings are attempted during the summer months which have yet to begin, so the much smaller figures for the first few months of the year are difficult to compare.
Zerouali denied reports that an agreement has been signed with Spain for Morocco to readmit migrants rescued at sea.
Morocco dismantled 50 migrant trafficking networks operating at the local and international levels so far this year, up 63 percent compared with a year earlier, he said. Authorities had also helped combat traffickers by imposing controls on the import and sale of navigation equipment, he added.
The EU has promised 140 million euros in border management aid to help Morocco curb migration flows. Some 30 million euros was disbursed earlier this year.
Zerouali said half of that aid would come in the form of budget support and half in donated equipment.
(Reporting by Ahmed Eljechtimi)