Skip to navigation – Site map

HomeIssues14Governing African Migration in Mo...

Governing African Migration in Morocco: The Challenge of Positive Desecuritisation

Gobernando la migración africana en Marruecos: El reto de la desecuritización positiva
La gouvernance des migrations africaines au Maroc : Le défi de la désécuritisation positive
Yousra Abourabi


As part of its new African integration policy, implemented under the reign of Mohammed VI, Morocco has developed a new migration policy. Traditionally, the Moroccan approach to migration was focused on the management of the Moroccan diaspora. Today, despite the low percentage of African migrants compared to European migrants in Morocco, special attention is paid to the regularisation of migrants coming from the South. The Kingdom of Morocco has therefore become an African migratory crossroads, not only for transit migration but also for incoming migration. While the European Union is trying to externalise the control of its borders to Maghreb countries, Morocco is striving to spread a positive and desecuritising discourse on migration to differentiate itself from Europe. This desire for differentiation is not an easy path, as this article demonstrates. It is motivated by the Moroccan will to affirm the African dimension of its identity and no longer be considered as a purely Arab-Muslim country looking to the Mediterranean region. To this end, Morocco has committed itself, as a ‘champion of migration’ within the African Union, to the dissemination of its own migration model over the continent and to the defence of an African vision of migration centred on continental mobility, promoting migration as a path to development and combating preconceived ideas about migration as a security problem. Overall, Morocco’s foreign policy in Africa has further encouraged sub-Saharan migration, which in turn has had many positive effects. In addition to the cosmopolitanisation of several Moroccan cities, the new migration policy seems to illustrate a boost in public policies and a willingness to overcome European normative transfers through diplomatic negotiation.

Top of page

Full text

1. Introduction

1Since the beginning of the reign of Mohammed VI, in 1999, Morocco has implemented a new foreign policy in Africa. Historically identified as an Arab and Muslim country, Morocco now wishes to be recognised as an African power, in both its identity and its area of influence (Abourabi, 2016). To this end, the government has expanded its cooperation instruments, including in the fields of economy, finance, culture, religion, security, environment and migration. With regard to migration, Morocco promotes hosting African nationals, but through diplomatic efforts it must also deal with European interests. The European Union (EU) is Morocco’s primary economic and political partner and expects it to play the role of border guard against irregular migration. This new geo-migratory situation worries many in Europe for whom the issue of migration has become a political obsession and an object of electoral manipulation.

  • 1 According to Morocco’s High Commission for Planning, using official statistics from the Directorate (...)
  • 2 Unless otherwise noted, all translations of quoted material are provided by the author.

2From the Moroccan point of view, the development of a new welcoming approach to the governance of migration became inevitable from the 2010s onwards, as the country’s desire to deepen its regional integration in Africa became apparent. Usually known as a land of emigration (14 per cent of the population live abroad),1 Morocco has become not only a corridor to Europe, but more importantly a destination for African migrants. The proportion of migrants settling in Morocco for a medium or long period of time has increased sharply in the last fifteen years, making the country a real junction of migration. In order to strengthen its image in Africa, Morocco has formulated a new migration policy, advocating ‘a humanitarian approach in line with the country’s international commitments and respectful of immigrants’ rights’ (Maroc.Ma, 2013).2 The Ministry in Charge of Moroccans Living Abroad, part of the broader Ministry of Foreign Affairs, African Cooperation and Moroccan Expatriates, has had, since 2013, an extended mandate including incoming migration as well. Before this date, only the Moroccan diaspora was taken into account in the migration policy. Since 2013, there has been a new strategy dedicated to inward migration. Between 2013 and 2015, this Ministry proceeded with the implementation of massive regularisation policies in record time. The new migration policy is based on an innovative discursive framework, which proposes a very different approach from that of Europe, in that it is intended both to be desecuritising and to promote a positive outlook on migration. In this discursive repertoire, emanating mainly from royal speeches, migration is presented as an opportunity for development and for the enrichment of Moroccan identity, rather than as a security issue. In a speech before the African Union (AU), King Mohamed VI stated that ‘migration deserves a new Afro-centric approach reconciling realism, tolerance and the primacy of reason over fear’ (Mohammed VI, 2017). The Moroccan discursive repertoire places particular emphasis on a humanistic approach to migration governance and on combating preconceived notions about the continent’s migration statistics.

3Nevertheless, in practice, Morocco faces many obstacles. The first stems from the pressure exerted by the EU attempting to externalise control of migration across its borders (El-Qadim, 2015) and the integration by the Moroccan security apparatus of normative security reflexes (Jimenez-Alvarez, Espiñeira and Gazzotti, 2020). The second relates to the governmentality of integration and inclusiveness, which, like other Moroccan public policies, shows many structural weaknesses (Lowe et al., 2020). The third is linked to the reticence marking part of public opinion, which sometimes negatively stigmatises migration in the media (Bahmad, 2015; El Miri, 2018). These three dimensions also have effects on each other.

4However, for the past ten years, the emerging tension of these obstacles has led many institutions and civil society organisations (CSOs) to support the government’s efforts by publishing studies and surveys that show the positive dimension of migration (including positive integration, positive stigmatisation, positive effects on social mix and economic development) (Hamdouch and Mghari, 2014). Also, thanks to its recent integration into the system of African multilateral governance, Morocco was designated ‘African Champion of Migration’ by the AU in 2018, positioning the country as a model and calling on Morocco to actively participate in the improvement of continental migration governance (AU, n.d.). Morocco has thus put itself in a position where it is pushed to improve its public policies.

5In pursuit of such improvement, the government has participated in the creation of the African Migration Observatory. Based in Rabat since 2020 under the aegis of the AU, this observatory aims to produce quantitative and qualitative data on migration within Africa to better understand this phenomenon and to combat preconceived ideas. The observatory also aims to provide the continent with a unified source of data and to support existing initiatives across the continent to strengthen pan-African cooperation on the matter (AU, 2020). It is too soon to comment on the role that the observatory plays, but it is important to mention it in order for the reader to pay attention to its development in future years.

6This chapter aims to show how and why Morocco is trying to develop a positive migration policy with regard to its geopolitical and diplomatic context. The method is both quantitative (using migration statistics) and based on a critical constructivist approach (paying attention to discourses and representations of the migration issue in Morocco). I do not use a formal model or positivist framework of analysis, although I propose, in conclusion, an opening to a discussion on the type of migratory state that Morocco represents. The research is based on a field study within the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation conducted between 2012 and 2016 as part of my doctoral thesis on Morocco’s foreign policy in Africa. In this thesis, there is a specific chapter where I argue that the new migration policy results from the new African orientation of Moroccan diplomacy. After completing this thesis, I participated in several conferences of senior decision makers, including a series of meetings on Morocco’s application for membership in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) organised by the Amadeus Institute in three West African countries in 2018, and the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) held in Marrakech in 2018. During these events I had the opportunity to meet informally with several Moroccan decision makers involved in migration governance. I do not quote them, but it should be noted that these interviews have guided the analysis. More generally, the data used here often come from official Moroccan reports and international organisations, but they also come from the fieldwork of several other researchers. Not all of the academic references that I draw upon are produced by international researchers or publications in major Western peer-reviewed journals. A significant part of the academic literature comes from local researchers who have published according to the opportunities available to them (books funded by foundations, local academic journals, etc.). As Berriane (2018) points out, nearly 40 per cent of the literature on migration in Morocco is now produced by local researchers, who only began publishing in recent years. The references I have chosen to use are relevant for two reasons: on the one hand, they are often based on very precise and well-conducted field studies. On the other hand, they provide culturally diverse perspectives for analysis of a topic whose analysis is otherwise dominated by a Eurocentric approach that focuses on Morocco only as a country of departure (Berriane, Haas and Natter, 2015).

7First, I show how Morocco is a case study worthy of interest since it constitutes a new migratory junction on an African scale. Secondly, I analyse the way in which the official Moroccan discourse on the development of the continent and the policies that accompany it carry a desecuritising and positive representation of migration. Then, I show how there is a close correlation between this positive African diplomacy (in its actions and speeches) and the development of migration networks in Morocco composed of civil society organisations, new specialised institutions and solidarity channels constructed by migrants. Finally, I show that despite the political challenges of this policy, there is real willingness not only to attract, regularise and integrate African migrants in Morocco, but most importantly to be at the origin of an approach that is differentiated from that of Europe, which both leads to and is a consequence of political change.

2. Morocco: A Growing Migration Junction

8A ‘migration junction’ is a place that exists at the crossroads of migration pathways. Naik and Randolph (2018, 3) define migration junctions as ‘geographies where migration is especially influential in shaping present and future outcomes and where policymakers are likely to confront particular migration-related challenges and opportunities’. Morocco is a migration junction because its stands at the geographic crossroads of Europe and Africa and serves as a migratory gateway between the two continents. It is an important part of a transit route to Europe, encompassing a long stage in a multi-state migratory journey, and has also become a long-term destination for many migrants.

2.1. A Transit Route to Europe

9Because it has become very difficult for Africans to get a visa to work in Europe, thousands of people try to cross the Mediterranean borders irregularly every year, hoping to find a better future in the global North. Irregular African migration to Europe now mirrors irregular Latin American migration to the United States (Slack and Martinez, 2021) in the sense that criminal organisations have taken control of this clandestine activity, using it for human and drug trafficking and making it an often tragic ordeal (Boyer, Lestage and París Pombo, 2018). Among the major land and sea migratory routes into Europe, the Western Mediterranean represented 44.7 per cent of irregular migration in 2018 (Frontex, 2021). In comparison, this route represented only 4 per cent of irregular migration flow in 2008 (Lahlou, 2018). Because many of the migrants pay as they go, they need to make enough money en route to pay for their journey, which consequently can last several years. As a result, many of them try to make a living in Morocco during that time. The estimated number of irregular migrants currently staying in Morocco is between 25,000 and 40,000 (Linard, 2017). Most of them come from West and Central African countries (Vie Publique, 2019).

10During the past couple of decades, Europe has thus witnessed an increase in the share of other African nationalities among migrants transiting through Tangiers, Nador or Oujda, cities only a few kilometres from Spain. Already in 2002, 42 per cent of irregular migrants transiting through Morocco came from sub-Saharan African countries (51 per cent were Moroccans, and 7 per cent were Algerians or Asians). In 2006, more than 16,000 aborted emigration attempts were recorded: 58 per cent of these migrants came from sub-Saharan Africa (AMERM, 2008). This trend has continued to develop. In 2020, 17,000 African migrants landed on the Canary Islands border alone. It is also possible to enter Spain via the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. Usually, migrants who reach these places and are not repatriated before the 40-day administrative detention period are immediately released into the Schengen area, even though there is a special law, adopted in 2015, that allows Spain to immediately send migrants back to Morocco instead of taking them to Spain (InfoMigrants, 2020).

11These flows are continually increasing, even though the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla are now protected by kilometres of fences, barbed wire and surveillance cameras, and despite the violent repression at the borders that is perpetuated by the Moroccan police alongside the Spanish police. Moreover, a large part of the risks endured by migrants during their journey comes from the inhospitality of the Sahara Desert, leading to dehydration, starvation, lack of healthcare and exposure to other human threats, especially against women. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) missing persons database shows for instance that a large majority of deaths are caused during the trans-Saharan journey.3 Moreover, the coronavirus crisis irremediably led to the closure of the borders of many states, including Morocco, and to the increase of territorial controls. These new restrictions put migrants crossing the desert under even greater threat to their security. For example, many decided to change their route, at the risk of getting lost (IOM, 2020).

12Despite all these threats to the safety of migrants, African citizens continue to head to Morocco. According to the Frontex agency, Morocco was the third largest country of origin of migrants arriving irregularly in Europe in 2019. However, it is worth considering the factors behind this statistical increase. The first cause of this irregular migration is the increase in restrictions and difficulties in obtaining a visa or a residence permit to be able to enter Europe through regular channels. Therefore, the increase of migrants’ insecurity and the development of associated criminal organisations is a consequence, not of migration per se, but of the non-facilitation, non-regularisation and non-inclusion of labour migration. Moreover, Morocco is a more ideal candidate for migration than other countries in the region, especially due to the violent experience that transiting through Libya represents (Reques et al., 2020). Furthermore, irregular migration is not increasing much more than the increase in population. Therefore, the percentage of irregular migration relative to the migrant population and the overall population is less alarming than the importance given to this matter in Europe would suggest. Finally, it should be recalled that, more generally, 70 per cent of African migratory flows take place within the continent, and that 90 per cent of the intra- and extra-African migration is regular: a statistical reality often ignored in favour of securitising migration.

2.2. An Attractive Destination for Africans

13Morocco should be considered more as part of the intra-continental migration phenomenon as it has also become a semi-permanent or permanent destination for African migrants. It is difficult to gather homogeneous and up-to-date data on migrants in Morocco, because the reports are often contradictory or scattered across sources. However, based on the last survey published by the High Commission for Planning (HCP), we know that the regular migrants represent 86,000 people, i.e., 0.3 per cent of the total population of Morocco (HCP, 2020). It should be noted that this data is not consistent with an IOM report published in 2020, which estimates the regular migrant population to represent 2 per cent of the total population (IOM, 2020). In either case, Africans represent the largest community of migrants in Morocco, before Europeans. Of all foreigners in Morocco, 40 per cent are of European nationalities, 41.6 per cent come from African countries, of which 64.5 per cent are from sub-Saharan countries and 31.9 per cent are from the Maghreb (HCP, 2014). Among Africans, some nationalities are more represented than others: notably Senegalese (7 per cent of all foreigners), Guineans (2.9 per cent) and Ivorians (2.7 per cent) (HCP, 2017). Compared to European countries, migration in Morocco remains minor. However, the average increase in annual migration is 10 per cent. If we also consider the welcoming migratory policy promoted by Morocco since 2013, and the developments of its foreign policy in Africa, this increase suggests that long-term African migration to Morocco will grow significantly in the next two decades. The following paragraphs present the sociological characteristics of migrants and the reasons why their number is likely to grow.

14While Morocco has one of the highest rates of students living abroad, it has become equally coveted by African students as a place to come to study. In 2012, there were nearly 15,577 foreign students from 134 countries in Morocco, the majority of which were continental. This figure still seems relatively small, but the rate of increase in the number of foreign students residing in Morocco between 2000 and 2009 was 732 per cent (Mahamadou Laouali and Meyer, 2012). At present, student mobility is still increasing. According to the Moroccan Agency for International Cooperation (AMCI), responsible for granting scholarships to foreign students, there were about 12,000 sub-Saharan students from 47 different African countries enrolled in Moroccan universities in 2019–20 (Yahia, 2019). This data does not consider students enrolled in internships, in technical training or in private schools not accredited by the State. It is quite conceivable that the number of sub-Saharan students and then young graduates living in Morocco will become truly significant during the next decade. Nearly 4 per cent of these students claimed not to have plans for further migration, and intended to remain working in Morocco after their studies at least for a few years (AMERM, 2008). Many graduate students are already starting to integrate into the labour market by finding small student jobs. Although some of them chose Morocco because of the lack of opportunities in a country in the global North, half of those questioned stated that they had a link with Morocco, most often via a family member who was or is a resident there. It can therefore be observed that the networks of African students, clerics and workers who have lived or stayed in Morocco are strongly interwoven. As a UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) report notes, ‘For qualified Africans from sub-Saharan Africa, such as doctors, artists, entrepreneurs and traders, Morocco offers new economic opportunities for social advancement that Europe no longer offers’ (UNECA, 2014, 16).

15 A second important migrant community is linked to religious brotherhood networks and, more generally, to the religious diplomacy developed by Morocco over the last two decades (Abourabi, 2020). Religious mobility has increased since the recognition of Sufism as part of official Moroccan Islam in 2002. Presented as a bulwark against extremism because of its mystical and spiritual dimension, Sufism has been accompanied by political and financial support for many transnational brotherhoods, particularly the Tijaniyya Brotherhood, whose founder’s tomb is in Fez. This city now hosts numerous pilgrimages, religious conferences and other events of a theological nature. Moreover, this anti-extremism religious diplomacy has also motivated the creation of a training centre for imams in Rabat, which opened in 2013, and which regularly accommodates apprentice imams from many countries in the West African region. The large support given by the state to the Tijaniyya Brotherhood and the migration networks established by the latter have favoured the settlement of new Senegalese in Fez, some of whom have married Moroccan women. According to a study on Ivorian migrants, it appears that ‘Morocco has become a reference, even a model, in the eyes of Ivorian Muslims and more particularly the Tîjanes community [. . .] In Côte d’Ivoire, these students sometimes present themselves as true scholars of Islamic sciences and participate, in their turn, in the propagation of Malekite Islam in the country’ (Bamba, 2015, 75–76). Therefore, more religious people choose a long-term stay in Morocco because it consolidates their ‘theological CV’. This flow then leads to other flows of domestic workers, trade and construction manufactures workers, and businessmen (Berriane et al., 2013).

16All this data does not consider the irregular migrants who have settled in Morocco, but it should be noted that this category is also relevant to consider. Because many undocumented migrants are young and educated, they try to blend in with sub-Saharan students, and learn about the opportunities that may be available to them. Conversely, some students find themselves in a situation of administrative irregularity and are unable to renew their visas, which leads them to turn to the solidarity networks frequented by undocumented migrants. Moreover, the nationalities of undocumented migrants coincide with those of students and religious people living in Morocco, and some of them have the same level of education. Around 48 per cent of undocumented migrants in Morocco have primary education, 36 per cent have secondary education and 16 per cent have higher education. Both groups sometimes live in the same neighbourhoods, sometimes share the same conditions, and some of them have employment opportunities in similar sectors such as the medical and paramedical sector, call centres, the press or IT, due to their level of French and their specialised studies, even though the unemployment rate of Moroccan youth is 22 per cent (Peraldi, 2012).

17The general picture I have just painted is intended to show two things: that sub-Saharan migration to Morocco is largely motivated by training (educational or religious) and skills exchange, and that it involves diversified labour migration. The socioeconomic characteristics of these migrants show that Morocco is a destination and not a default choice or simply a transit route. It is therefore not a site of ‘parking’ migration as is the case for Libya, since most migrants aspire towards professionalisation, regularisation and integration. This means that their migration project is part of a long-term process. This embedded process (one flow attracts another through community networks and family links) is comparable to the creation of the first European migratory hotbeds, which further supports the idea that this inward migration to Morocco is more likely to grow and become a settlement migration, especially since the government has supported this mobility of students, members of religious orders and workers by relaxing the laws on entry and conditions of stay for Africans. Indeed, Morocco’s migration diplomacy tends to promote a welcoming image in Africa, as the following section demonstrates. I have sought to show so far how immigration in Morocco is a case study worthy of interest. I will now focus on demonstrating the desecuritising dimension of Moroccan migration policy, as well as the diplomatic reasons for this willingness to welcome migration.

3. Morocco’s African Diplomacy Desecuritising Migration

3.1. From Regional Integration to Visa-Free Travel

18At the diplomatic level, Morocco promotes a welcoming image toward its African neighbours through a set of speeches and sectoral policies referring to ‘South-South’ cooperation and humanitarian action. South-South cooperation refers to a system of economic, cultural and technical exchanges that emphasise solidarity rather than profit (Simplicio, 2011). To claim its new role in South-South cooperation, Morocco’s first symbolic act was the debt cancellation of the least developed countries in 2000. In addition to development aid, food and health convoys were sent to fifteen African countries at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. This aid included masks, hydroalcoholic gels, chloroquine (during the first few months of the crisis), and other essential medicines, and was flown in when the borders were closed (Le Monde, 2020). This required special logistical and financial efforts in a context where states were ensuring their own health security first. These actions of solidarity have reinforced the recognition of Morocco’s Africanness and consequently have helped to shape its image as a welcoming country.

19To strengthen the South-South cooperation framework, King Mohammed VI has undertaken several state visits to African countries over the last twenty years and conducted dozens of interministerial or public-private cooperation agreements. These agreements cover agriculture, construction, electrification, training, finance, trade, banking, transport and telecommunications, among other sectors (Abourabi, 2020). After twenty years of intensive bilateral diplomacy, Morocco re-joined the African Union in January 2017 (Abourabi, 2017b), then applied to join ECOWAS in February 2017 (Abourabi, 2019a; 2019b). All this has also involved agreements concerning the mutual suppression of entry visas with many African countries, particularly West African countries. Moreover, the demand to join ECOWAS itself showed that Morocco was willing to integrate a free migratory region.

  • 4 These fears were shared by several Moroccan policymakers and civil society representatives on the m (...)

20Many nationalities have benefited from consular facilities in order to travel to Morocco. This is the case of the Senegalese, in the first place, who do not need a visa to travel to Morocco, and who also have the right to reside and work there, according to a convention signed in 1964. Other nationalities have more recently benefited from mutual visa suppression as part of Morocco’s continental integration. This is the case for Guinea Bissau (2015), Ghana (2017), Mali (2018), Guinea (2018), Congo (2018), Togo (2018) and Burkina Faso (2020), among others. While Morocco was asking to join ECOWAS, several voices were raised to share their fear of a ‘migratory wave’ toward Morocco should the application be successful.4 Yet at that time, Morocco had already abolished visas for 11 of the 15 countries in the organisation without causing an undesirable or uncontrollable flow of regular migrants, which shows not only that these fears were unfounded but most importantly that diplomacy was given priority over the concerns of other national decision makers. It also shows that although Morocco is often referred to as an ‘illiberal’ state, a consensual concept that follows on from the concept of ‘authoritarianism’, it is a state composed of diverse actors with differing points of view, all of whom have some degree of influence over the actions taken by the government.

3.2. A Dynamic Migration Diplomacy

21While pursuing its foreign policy in Africa, Morocco is helping to disseminate a positive discourse on migration at the international level. The first spearheading of this policy was the launch of the ‘African Alliance for Migration and Development’ initiative on the sidelines of the United Nations Second High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development (HLD) that took place in October 2013. Let us recall that the goal of this multilateral discussion is not only to identify ways to maximise the positive impacts of migration for both migrants and countries, but also to strengthen international cooperation on the matter. According to King Mohammed VI, this initiative was based on ‘an African vision and humanitarian principles to govern migration issues. It is also based on the shared responsibility between countries of origin, transit and host countries, and on the close link between immigration and development’ (Mohammed VI, 2013). Therefore, the Moroccan representatives promoted the construction of a new African architecture to manage migration issues, characterised by a multidimensional approach, focusing more on ‘human’ rather than security issues. The initiative proposed to rely on regional organisations such as ECOWAS or AMU (Arab Maghreb Union) to develop a common institutional and legal framework, aimed at protecting the rights of migrants, and to strengthen political dialogue between state actors, the private sector and civil society. Migration was presented not as a security problem, but as ‘a catalyst for development and a factor in bringing nations closer together’, while fundamental rights were described as ‘one of the fundamental points of the Moroccan vision through this “Alliance”’ (Amrani, 2013). Moreover, the initiative also addressed the shared responsibility of the EU in strengthening positive cooperation over the matter.

22Despite its ambitious character, unprecedented and, above all, in line with the development/migration nexus promoted in the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the initiative did not immediately lead to a concrete mechanism. Indeed, at that time, Morocco had not yet developed a migration policy aimed toward arrivals and had yet to face critical reports of violence perpetrated against irregular migrants transiting its territory, including those presented in the 2013 report of Morocco’s National Human Rights Council (CNDH, 2013). These seem to be the main reasons why this national migration policy was announced in September by the king and put rapidly into place a few months later, in December 2013.

23The new migration policy started, as mentioned in the introduction, with the creation of a ministerial department in charge of migration affairs entrusted to the Ministry delegate in Charge of Moroccans Living Abroad. Four sub-commissions, respectively in charge of the regularisation of illegal foreigners, the regularisation of statutory refugees, the upgrading of the legal and institutional framework relating to migration, asylum and trafficking, and diplomatic cooperation in migration matters, were also created. These institutional upheavals enabled the development of a governmental mechanism not only centred on the application of royal directives, but also based on a shared governance with civil society. Only a month after the launch of the new policy, the first residence permits for refugees were granted. A draft law on asylum was also drawn up for the first time, based on the principles of the 1951 Geneva Convention (ratified by Morocco in 1957). The objective advocated by the government was to provide ‘protection to any foreign person who has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, nationality, religion, membership of a particular social group or political opinion’ (Debbarh, 2014). All this shows how much political will there was to put in place a policy welcoming migration quickly.

24Indeed, following the launch of this policy, three massive regularisation campaigns were organised in 2014, 2016 and 2017. In 2014, almost 18,000 undocumented migrants out of approximately 35,000 applicants were regularised following a massive and exceptional campaign. Most of them came from sub-Saharan countries, in particular Senegal, Niger, Cameroon and Guinea (Chakir Alaoui, 2015). Applicants had to meet the following criteria: they either had to have lived five years in Morocco, to have concluded a marriage with a Moroccan, to have a work contract, or they had to have a serious illness. The regularisation campaign has also been extended to all migrant women who requested it: there were 5,060 of them in 2015. In 2016, some 25,000 migrants were regularised (Berrissoule, 2018). In 2017, 28,400 migrants were regularised (Ghazouani, 2019), representing almost 90 per cent of applicants. The same year, Morocco also adopted a law on the fight against human trafficking and launched the legislative adoption process of two draft laws on asylum and immigration. It is important to note that although these campaigns were presented as targeting mainly sub-Saharans, many Syrian refugees benefited from them as well.

  • 5 A report published by the Ministry of Migration stated that ‘At the international level, the Nation (...)

25The following years were dedicated to promoting these national efforts at the international level and making a place for Morocco in the international migration governance system. In 2017, shortly after Morocco’s readmission to the AU, King Mohammed VI was designated ‘Champion of Migration’ by the organisation. This title gives Morocco a role in the formulation of a roadmap for African cooperation on migration, and more generally in the improvement of the continental governance model in this area, to better protect the security of migrants, states and their interests vis-à-vis Europe. It is important to note that at the same time, Morocco was co-organising with Germany, in their capacity as co-chairs, the 2018 edition of the Global Forum on Migration and Development. Morocco had already participated in the previous editions, showing a strong and committed interest in making this approach to governance work. By 2018, the city of Marrakech was hosting both the GFMD and the Intergovernmental Conference to Adopt the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. These conferences led to the signing of two major agreements: the Marrakech Pact and the Global Compact for Migration, respectively. Even though these documents are not legally binding and are still criticised, they mark an important step forward in the history of global migration governance because they contribute to international accountability in addressing development and human rights issues through global dialogue (Oelgemöller and Allinson, 2020). Moreover, these events drew much attention to Morocco, which reinforced the government’s conviction that the country has a role to play as a model of migration governance at the continental level.5 Projected in the light of the major multilateral conferences since 2018, Morocco has no choice but to ensure that its migration policy meets its own international commitments. The following section demonstrates how this positive declaratory diplomacy has helped to normalise the presence and visibility of migrants’ identities in Morocco.

3.3. The Positive Affirmation of Migration in Morocco Linked to Its African Diplomacy

26As a result of this migration diplomacy, the number of migrants continues to grow, but most importantly the existing migration communities seem to have found more legitimacy in their presence and therefore asserted their visibility. Several West and Central African community areas have emerged in Rabat, Casablanca, Marrakech, Tangiers, Oujda, Fez and Laâyoune. These neighbourhoods are also witnessing the multiplication of migrant support associations as well as informal places of worship, mostly Pentecostal, Protestant or prophetic (Bava, 2016). These house churches are set up inside the buildings where migrants live (Coyault, 2014). The whole Christian religious landscape of West and Central Africa seems to be represented in this network of informal churches. They are essential for the migrants because they often offer them all types of assistance (Coyault, 2015). Similarly, in certain Moroccan markets, the presence of African arts and crafts demonstrates the development of supply chains that follow the movements of migrants. These transformations confirm the normalisation of the migratory presence in Morocco.

  • 6 The Mowafaqa Institute is an ecumenical theological institute founded by the Catholic and Protestan (...)

27Gradually, the non-concealment of the religious practices of Christian communities in Morocco has led to the revitalisation of official churches, especially evangelical churches with a Pentecostal dominance. It has been estimated by a member of the Mowafaqa Institute6 in 2019 that the official churches gather a total of 30,000 faithful. The main nationalities represented are from Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon and Central Africa (Coyault, 2014), countries located in the area of cooperation favoured by Morocco (Abourabi, 2020).

28The effect of Morocco’s cultural diplomacy on migrants’ social affirmation has been raised by many observers. The formulation of a migration diplomacy mainly focused on African countries will gradually become a leitmotif of migration policy at the domestic level, in line with the international commitments made by Morocco and the role it advocates. The nationalities represented in the social spheres vary according to the cooperation agreements signed by Morocco. This trend can be applied to many categories of migrants. Their nationalities depend of course on the economic and political context of their country of origin, but their assertiveness and visibility in the social and professional fields also coincide with the state of Morocco’s relations with their country. Another example is the growing presence of Muslim pilgrims among African migrants, resulting not only from the consolidation of the links between the crown and the transnational Sufi brotherhoods, but also from the development of religious diplomacy at the regional level, discussed in a previous section.

29Positive affirmation means here that migrants do not need to hide or experience repression of their identity. The examples given are linked to religious expression, but they could also have been other kinds of identity claims. The expression of religiosity seems, however, to be the most illustrative of the gap between the normative structures within Moroccan society, and the normality with which these norms have changed. Before the advent of the reign of Mohammed VI in 1999, Morocco was a country whose official Islamic institutions were close to the Salafi movement and did not recognise the Sufi Way. It was also a country in which the expression of the Christian faith was perceived as abnormal or reserved for Europeans within the limits of their discretion. The most curious or open-minded Muslim Moroccans did not dare to enter churches for fear of being associated with Christians and repressed accordingly. Today, this era seems very distant. Through the examples I have given, I argue that the presence of migrants is not hidden, and contrary to a common belief that migrants tend to hide, their strong presence is expressed positively through the visibility of their identities. My hypothesis here is that this normalisation is the result of a declaratory diplomacy favourable to migration.

4. The Positive Effects of Desecuritising Migration in Morocco

30There are many positive effects of desecuritising migration: in addition to the active participation of migrants in the economy of host countries, cultural diversity often acts as a factor of tolerance and mutual understanding. In the case of Morocco, all these consequences apply, especially the latter. This integration is neither sufficient nor homogeneous. Nevertheless, through their encounters with other African nationalities, many Moroccans (most of whom have never travelled across the continent) get to know new cultures and integrate new habits. When talking about Africa, King Mohammed VI has also stated that: ‘all these constructive actions in favour of immigrants have thus precisely reinforced the image of Morocco and strengthened the ties that we had already established’ (Mohammed VI, 2017). As pointed out earlier in this chapter, in quantitative terms, this regular migration to Morocco appears to be marginal (between 0.3 per cent and 2 per cent of the population). However, in qualitative terms, and particularly in terms of its impact on Morocco’s sociopolitical and diplomatic developments, this phenomenon is one of the most decisive of the current decade. The following sections will attempt to demonstrate this through two aspects: firstly, African migration constitutes a major regulatory lever with the EU and has enabled Morocco to differentiate itself from the European approach, without alienating Europe. Secondly, in comparison with other national issues subject to strong civil society involvement, migration has led more than others to the practice of multi-level governance.

4.1. Overcoming European Normative Transfers through Diplomatic Negotiation

31Through its declaratory diplomacy advocating inclusive migration and its active participation in multilateral processes, Morocco has learned to resist the normative frameworks that the EU wishes to impose. These include the EU’s desire to externalise control of its borders to Morocco. It should be recalled that since the early 2000s, the European Union has put pressure on Morocco to become a buffer state that protects European borders from immigration (El-Qadim, 2015). Spain accused Morocco of not controlling its own borders and tolerating the passage of migrants. The objective of the Spanish government is to enforce an agreement drawn up in 1992 on the readmission by Morocco of any illegal migrants who have transited through its borders. These agreements consist in making African countries accept the return not only of their own citizens to their soil but also of migrants from third countries who have transited through their territory. For Morocco, this would mean the readmission of all sub-Saharans who have already arrived in Europe but who have been arrested by the authorities, which Morocco refuses. This matter is a recurrent source of tension between the two countries (Arab, 2018; Larramendi and Bravo, 2006). The Moroccan government has agreed to readmit Moroccan citizens arrested at the border, but still resists the admission of other nationalities (Michalska, 2020).

32The equilibrium with Europe is sensitive for both actors. It should be recalled that Morocco’s diplomatic relations with Europe are part of continuous cooperation since 1963. Morocco gradually became the first beneficiary of the European financial envelope for the Maghreb in 2013. The new Action Plan for the implementation of the Advanced Status (2013–17 confirmed the special EU-Morocco relationship formalised by the initial granting of Advanced Status in 2008, as the financial envelope dedicated to the projects continued to grow until reaching EUR 389 million in 2019. It can therefore be said that Morocco’s economic development through growth has been strongly supported by European aid, loans and investments. Morocco recognises through this advanced status relationship that Europe can be not only a strategic ally or an economic partner, but also sometimes an institutional and normative model. Thus, the advanced status serves as a framework for strengthening bilateral relations: political consultation, inclusion of Morocco in European energy and transport networks, harmonisation of regulations, and strengthening ties between public and private actors.

33The advanced status has also been used by Morocco to its advantage when negotiating migration issues. In order to put pressure on Morocco, the European strategy consists in using development aid as a lever for a ‘carrot and stick’ policy, meaning conditional aid (Belguendouz, 2005). Given that the EU wants to convert its neighbours into buffer zones at all costs, its strategy has consisted in introducing readmission agreements into trade agreements that were not directly linked to this issue.

  • 7 343 million EUR = 411 million USD, 2018 conversion; 389 million EUR = 445 million USD, 2019 convers (...)
  • 8 Declaration of Khalid Zerouali, governor in charge of migration and border control at the Ministry (...)

34The EU has thus proposed action plans to facilitate Morocco’s takeover of migration management. Since the signature of its advanced status with the EU in 2008, Morocco has become the first beneficiary of aid for border management with Europe’s neighbouring countries. However, Moroccan policy makers try to balance this policy. They have agreed to work together with the Spanish authorities through the establishment of joint surveillance patrols but continue to refuse the application of agreements for the readmission of migrants on their soil. They have also signed bilateral readmission agreements with many European countries (Italy, France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands), but voluntarily applied these agreements in an irregular manner (Martínez, 2009). Faced with Morocco’s reticence regarding such provisions, the EU has redoubled its efforts to include the migration issue in many sectors of Moroccan-European cooperation (El-Qadim, 2015). One such cooperation sector is police capacity building. Between 2018 and 2020, Morocco received EUR 343 million in European aid to strengthen its police capacity. In 2019, new cooperation programs worth EUR 389 million were allocated by the European Commission in support of border management.7 When this kind of agreement reveals itself to be not decisive enough, the EU resorts to compromises during direct negotiations. This was the case for example in December 2020, when European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson travelled to Morocco with a mandate to negotiate readmissions in exchange for visa facilitation. Despite these actions, the government continues to resist. In 2020, the governor in charge of migration and border control at the Ministry of Interior reaffirmed that ‘Morocco is not in a logic of subcontracting’.8

35How does Morocco try to resist European pressure without alienating such a strategic partner? Among the cooperation agreements between the EU and Morocco, there are several very sensitive fishery agreements. Negotiations on the exploitation of fishing resources off the Moroccan coast have always been subject to a balance between ratification and rejection since the signing of the first Spanish-Moroccan agreement in 1977. The main problem that arises is the definition of the maritime or land space within which exploitation is allowed, specifically whether or not the ‘Western Sahara’ is included as Moroccan territory. The agreement leads to different results at each renewal, which leads to constant negotiation between the two actors. The EU uses recognition of Morocco’s authority in the Sahara provinces as a lever for negotiation, while Morocco uses the migration argument to protect its interests. This was notably the case in early 2017, after the European Court of Justice ruled in the last instance that the Agriculture Agreement does not apply to the Western Sahara. The Moroccan Minister of Agriculture had stated that the EU was facing a ‘real risk of resumption of migration flows that Morocco, through a sustained effort, was able to manage’ (Carretero, 2017). This had been interpreted as a threat that Moroccan forces would relax migration control. The following year, during a working meeting with the services of the commission on the fishery agreement, Moroccan representatives also stressed that:

the support provided by the EU is modest compared to what the Moroccan government is investing in the region through very ambitious regional plans. [...] Some of them also stressed the need to increase catches landed by EU vessels in the region, which would allow the local industry to develop further and create jobs for the local population, while cushioning the impact on employment resulting from the increasing sub-Saharan migration in the territory.

European Commission, 2018, 32

36These discussions reveal that migration negotiations are not only about migration, and that many other issues are used by both partners as a lever of pressure. The scope of these issues and the interdependence between both actors are such that they tend, positively, to maintain a good level of mutual understanding and avoid hostility. Another example of the instrumentalisation of migration as a lever in the power relationship between Morocco and its European partners is the Ceuta crisis in May 2021. In protest against Spain hosting Polisario Front leader Brahim Ghali for medical treatment, Morocco relaxed its border controls, allowing some 10,000 irregular migrants to cross into Ceuta (Africa News, 2021). In response to Morocco's reaction, Spain acknowledged that Brahim Ghali faces a series of legal actions and must stand trial before leaving Spain (Kasraoui, 2021). On the one hand, while trying to resist European migration policy, Morocco inevitably internalised part of the normative framework that presents the immigrant as a security scourge that threatens Europe. Its resistance to readmission agreements therefore could not prevent the export of the European model of migration management: strengthening border control, intelligence against the trafficking of migrants, capacities development in the field of asylum, and many other practices that are taken up by the Moroccans. Many times, official media have emphasised the urgency of dealing with the migratory ‘threat’. On the other hand, Morocco is clearly trying to differentiate itself from Europe, especially since its designation as Champion of Migration by the African Union. At the Intergovernmental Conference on Migration held in Marrakech, to which all UN state actors were invited, the royal speech confirmed this position. Mohammed VI declared:

Migration is not a security issue – nor should it become one. A repressive migration policy will not be a deterrent. Through some perverse effect, repression deflects migratory dynamics, but does not stop them. Migrants’ rights cannot be ignored simply because there are security concerns. Their rights are inalienable. The side of the border on which a migrant stands does not make him or her more or less human. Addressing security concerns should go hand in hand with socio-economic development policies which tackle the root causes of risky migration. Finally, security concerns should not be invoked to deny mobility. In fact, the latter can be turned into a lever of sustainable development, at a time when the international community is seeking to implement the 2030 Agenda.

Mohammed VI, 2018

37This shows that even though Moroccan migration policy is often described as exclusively reactive to its own geopolitical interests (Benjelloun, 2020), the way in which this policy is conducted with its partners, on the contrary, shows a proactive dimension. The Moroccan policy has gone so far as addressing relatively new migratory movements (Cherti and Collyer, 2015). This type of timid discourse, non-existent some fifteen years ago yet increasingly clear-cut for the past five years, reveals a real affirmation of Morocco’s interests in the face of European interests, thus strengthening the country’s diplomatic voice.

38With the advent of African diplomacy and its migratory component, Morocco is, now more than ever, at the centre of a relational mechanism, and must combine all its interests: continue to develop its partnership with the EU while resisting the pressures concerning readmission; encourage African migration to Morocco while having the capacity to control the routes of migrants entering the territory; and encourage regional integration while having the capacity to control the geopolitical and security issues that are gradually emerging. Morocco is thus a migration state in the whole sense of the term, and not only a transit state, even though as already stated many times in this chapter, the quantity of migrants entering legally is relatively small. The concept of transit migration was introduced by various organisations during the first processes of the externalisation of EU migration policies during the 1960s. Thus, this conceptual category carries a very strong normative burden since it has made it possible to legitimise the need to share responsibility for migration control with transit countries. As a result, Morocco has progressively stood up for itself and become an example to show that EU externalisation policies should not lead to readmission and that a migration state should not only be perceived as a transit state.

4.2. A Booster of Integrative Public Policies

39The second positive effect is that a migration policy, as a public policy, was born and developed in a concerted manner with diplomacy, civil society actors and other ministries. In a context where Morocco, in the midst of a democratic transition since the Arab upheaval in 2011, is seeking to improve the efficiency of its public policies, the difficulties encountered in the implementation of this migration policy on a domestic scale have favoured the gradual emergence of a new mode of ‘internal-external’ governance.

  • 9 Informal interviews conducted by the author with representatives of both institutions in the margin (...)

40According to Natter, Morocco conducts a liberal migration governance because it is an illiberal regime. She argues that ‘[i]n Morocco, political power remains concentrated within the Makhzen, a network of politicians, families, and businessmen centred around the King’ (Natter, 2018, 7). It rather seems that, on the contrary, migration policy illustrates a liberal way of practising public policies. In fact, Natter contradicts her own terms when she rightfully asserts that the Moroccan state ‘is not a uniform, rational actor, but consists of fragmented institutions that can pursue multiple, potentially contradicting goals’ (Natter, 2018, 13). Indeed, the Ministry of Interior, in charge of national security and thus the border police, has a much more securitising vision of migration compared to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, African Cooperation and Moroccan Expatriates, which sees primarily the diplomatic benefits of migrants’ protection.9 Both institutions have enough prerogatives to balance policy practices on their side. The fact that the king’s power and political style have made it possible to energise regularisation policies does not change a much more important aspect: the fact that this migration policy, in its rules and practice, has also been built in a dialectical way with the recommendations of civil society.

41Indeed, the National Human Rights Council (CNDH), a public institution that submits its annual reports directly to the king, has established itself as one of the main levers for public action in the field of migration policy in Morocco. For them, Morocco cannot allow its relations with its African sister countries to be damaged by the repressive practices of the Moroccan authorities toward migrants. One of their reports states that ‘this issue of migrants must also be dealt with on a regional level’ (CNDH, 2006, 8). These recommendations provide a better understanding of the geopolitical representation of Moroccan actors. The fact that an institution dedicated to human rights considers the diplomatic interests of the country and reports directly to the king also shows the extent to which it is integrated into the migration governance process. It should also be remembered that it was following a CNDH report (2013) whose recommendations were based on field studies conducted by local CSOs, that the new migration policy was defined.

42Such integration of civil society in the decision-making process has not always been possible. Between 2000 and 2010, the public authorities reacted ad hoc to each migration phenomenon, without consultation or a global vision of the migration policy to be adopted. In 2003, a first law on the status of migrants was enacted and the government committed itself to implementing the provisions of the 1990 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. In 2007, the government signed a headquarters agreement with the High Commissioner for Refugees, while continuing to increase border control and arrests to meet European requirements. These arrests were often characterised by the practice of violence against migrants and non-respect of their fundamental rights, even though Morocco had signed and ratified the main international conventions on human rights and migrants’ rights, such as the Geneva Convention and the Palermo Protocol.

43Today’s evolution points toward the idea that Morocco is more likely to have a sustainable migration policy and to act on its engagements. The recommendations of the National Human Rights Council finally found a favourable echo within the palace. The king immediately invited the government to draw up a new global policy on immigration issues following ‘a humanitarian approach in line with our country’s international commitments and respectful of the rights of immigrants’ (Mohammed VI, 2013). Between 2013 and 2020, the migration policy has constantly involved not only the CNDH but also, indirectly, multiple migrant defence CSOs (Groupe Antiraciste de Défense et d’Accompagnement des Etrangers et Migrants, Association des Amis et Familles des Victimes de l’Immigration Clandestine, Association des Sans-papiers et Demandeurs d’Asile au Maroc, Rassemblement des Réfugiés Ivoiriens au Maroc, etc.). The peculiarity of the regularisation campaigns is that they emanated from high royal instructions and had to be conducted quickly, efficiently and on a large scale. They were therefore extraordinary in every sense of the word. As Benjelloun (2020) observes, following her fieldwork at the Ministry delegate, in charge of Moroccans Living Abroad and Migration Affairs during the 2016 regularisation campaign, not only were many state agents and financial means mobilised to quickly regularise the greatest number, but above all, these agents showed the greatest possible flexibility regarding the criteria for regularisation that they had set themselves. She notices that ‘[t]he obsession with numbers was such that the foreigners’ offices regularized migrants while knowing full well that the documents they have provided are falsified. Far from being anecdotal, the extent of this phenomenon is surprising’ (Benjelloun, 2020, 1213). The main reason for this flexibility seems to lie partly in the government’s willingness to respond to the criticisms and recommendations of human rights organisations. This dynamic shows that Morocco could be an example to the neo-institutionalist argument that the State open their migration policy because of domestic pressure.

44Never have so many associations in favour of the rights and living conditions of undocumented Africans been developed as in recent years. The public policies in Morocco that integrate so many civil society actors in the evaluation and decision-making process and are so quick to implement in the short term are less common. No other public policy is both so energised by a diplomatic projection and shaped by domestic multi-actor governance. This is a positive gain that deserves to be highlighted. It should not obscure the fact, though, that there is strong criticism regarding the treatment of irregular migrants by law enforcement agencies. However, as Cherti and Collyer reminds us:

Morocco has become the focus for much of this critique, not because its policy is unusually bad but because the activities of civil society and foreign researchers are unusually unrestricted – certainly compared to Algeria, Libya or Egypt, where the treatment of migrants is worse but there is a very limited evidence base on these issues.

Cherti and Collyer, 2015, 591

45Comparing Morocco to its neighbours is not the only tool for measuring the dynamism of this governance (including its capacity for openness to civil criticism). The comparison of migration policy with other domestic public policies shows that migration is subject to a more integrative form of governance. For example, there is a strong associative activism focused on gender equality that may have driven social change, but it did not lead to a decisive response from the government (Ennaji, 2016; Lambert, 2017). In the case of migration, government representatives went so far as to organise, with civil society organisations, campaigns to attract and convince the hidden and reluctant migrants to regularise (Benjelloun, 2019). Again, in comparison to gender policy, the government does not conduct campaigns, for example, to encourage women to file complaints of rape or domestic violence. Yet again civil society activism over this particular matter is quite significant (Massoui and Séguin, 2020). All these observations tend to show that, indeed, Morocco’s migration policy is playing the role of a booster in public policies.

5. Conclusion

  • 10 The authors redefine the concept of ‘Migration State’ (Hollifield) as a ‘liberal immigration state’ (...)
  • 11 ‘The nationalizing migration state poses a challenge to the dominance of economic and market concer (...)
  • 12 I discuss the concept of differentiation in this context in a discussion paper (Abourabi, 2017a).

46Morocco provides an interesting case study to exemplify how the global South responds to migration policies in the North. According to Adamson and Tsourapas (2020, 862), Morocco fits well into the category of ‘developmental state’,10 defined as a state that ‘challenges the overwhelming focus on immigration by pointing to the important role of emigration and labour export in the economic development strategies of democratic and non-democratic states in the Global South’ (Adamson and Tsourapas, 2020, 863). Yet this chapter was aiming to show that the government’s attention to its migration policy demonstrates just the opposite. Morocco does not fall either into the authors’ two other categories: it is neither a nationalising nor a neoliberal state.11 One can in fact add a new category to the list and define Morocco as a state of ‘consensual differentiation’.12 While working to preserve its good relations with the EU by conceding to part of its policies for outsourcing control of migration, Morocco affirms its own inward migration policy. It does so by inserting itself consensually into the multilateral frameworks of the UN and the AU so that the conduct of its policy of migratory openness is protected and does not assert itself as a counterpoint to European interests. Neither can Morocco be too severely criticised for its police violations or lack of integration to justify more budget for police control if similar practices are still observed in EU countries. On the contrary, it seems that it is in Morocco’s interest to let social activism express itself and be a vector legitimising the advancement of integration and asylum policy, instead of it being perceived as a state which disengages from the European partner. The differentiation is then emphasised in speeches as Morocco refers to its UN and pan-African commitments and to the demands of civil society. At the same time, the Moroccan position remains very consensual since it is not very disruptive, but also significantly different from the European official discourses because it willingly desecuritises migration. Morocco’s potential as a locomotive of continental migration governance certainly lies in this equilibrium.

Top of page


Abourabi, Y. (2020) La politique africaine du Maroc. Identité de rôle et projection de puissance, Studies in the History and Society of the Maghrib 12 (Leiden: Brill).

Abourabi, Y. (2019a) ‘Maroc – CEDEAO : Où en est la demande d’adhésion?’, Middle East Eye Édition Française, 8 May, (accessed on 21 April 2021).

Abourabi, Y. (2019b) ‘Le Maroc à la CEDEAO, et si c’était pour bientôt?’, Jeune Afrique, 19 August, (accessed on 21 April 2021).

Abourabi, Y. (2017a) ‘La nouvelle politique migratoire du Maroc comme instrument diplomatique’, in M. Alioua, J.-N. Ferrié and H. Reifeld (eds.) La nouvelle politique migratoire Marocaine (Rabat: Konrad Adenauer Stiftung), pp. 123–143, (accessed on 21 April 2021).

Abourabi, Y. (2017b) ‘L’UA pourrait devenir une arène d’affrontements diplomatiques entre pro et anti-Marocains’, Jeune Afrique, 2 February, (accessed on 21 April 2021).

Abourabi, Y. (2016) Diplomatie et politique de puissance du Maroc en Afrique sous le règne de Mohammed VI, PhD Dissertation (Lyon: Université Jean Moulin Lyon 3), (accessed on 21 April 2021).

Africa News (2021), "Morocco calls on Spain to avoid escalating migration crisis over Brahim Ghali",, May 25, (accessed on 31 May 2021).

Adamson, F.B. and G. Tsourapas (2020) ‘The Migration State in the Global South: Nationalizing, Developmental, and Neoliberal Models of Migration Management’, International Migration Review, 54(3), pp. 853–882, DOI: 10.1177/0197918319879057

AMERM (Association Marocaine d’Etudes et de Recherche en Migrations ) (2008) L’immigration subsaharienne au Maroc: analyse socio-économique, (accessed on 4 May 2021).

Amrani, Y. (2013) ‘La vision de SM le Roi en matière de politique migratoire traduit un engagement constant au service de l’Afrique et de son développement’,, 1 October, (accessed on 21 April 2021).

Arab, C. (2018) ‘Dames de fraises, doigts de fée, les invisibles de la migration saisonnière marocaine en Espagne’, Cahiers de civilisation espagnole contemporaine, 22, DOI: 10.4000/ccec.8237

AU (African Union) (2020) Official Inauguration in Morocco of the African Migration Observatory, press release, 17 December, (accessed on 21 April 2021).

AU (n.d.) Champion Presidents, (accessed on 21 April 2021).

Bahmad, J. (2015) ‘From Slavery to the Screen: Sub-Saharan Migrants in Moroccan History and Cinema’, in N. Khrouz and N. Lanza (eds.) Migrants au Maroc : cosmopolitisme, présence d’étrangers et transformations sociales (Rabat: Centre Jacques-Berque and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung), pp. 151–157, (accessed on 21 April 2021).

Bamba, M. (2015) ‘Mobilité des musulmans Ivoiriens au Maroc: entre formation islamique et tourisme religieux’, in N. Khrouz and N. Lanza (eds.) Migrants au Maroc : cosmopolitisme, présence d’étrangers et transformations sociales (Rabat: Centre Jacques-Berque and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung), pp. 72–80, (accessed on 21 April 2021).

Bava, S. (2016) ‘Migrations africaines et christianismes au Maroc. De la théologie des migrations à la théologie de la pluralité religieuse’, Les Cahiers d’Outre-Mer, 274, pp. 259–288, DOI: 10.4000/com.7896

Belguendouz, A. (2005) ‘Expansion et sous-traitance des logiques d’enfermement de l’Union européenne: l’exemple du Maroc’, Cultures & Conflits, 57, pp. 155–219, DOI: 10.4000/conflits.1754

Benjelloun, S. (2020) ‘Morocco’s New Migration Policy: Between Geostrategic Interests and Incomplete Implementation’, The Journal of North African Studies, 18(1), pp. DOI: 10.1080/13629387.2020.1800207

Benjelloun, S. (2019) Diplomatie migratoire du Maroc. La nouvelle politique migratoire ou la formation d’une politique publique engagée pour soutenir la politique étrangère du Maroc, PhD Thesis (Grenoble: Université Grenoble Alpes),ésumé_de_thèse_Diplomatie_migratoire_du_Maroc_La_nouvelle_politique_migratoire_ou_la_formation_d_une_politique_publique_engagée_pour_soutenir_la_politique_étrangère_du_Maroc (accessed on 21 April 2021).

Berriane, M. (2018) ‘Tendances récentes de la recherche sur les migrations marocaines (2010 et 2017)’, in M. Berriane (ed.) Marocains de l'extérieur 2017 (Rabat: Fondation Hassan II pour les Marocains Résident à l'Etranger), pp. 31-70, (accessed on 21 April 2021).

Berriane, M., M. Aderghal, M.I. Janati and J. Berriane (2013) ‘Immigration to Fes: The Meaning of the New Dynamics of the Euro-African Migratory System’, Journal of Intercultural Studies, 34(5), pp. 486–502, DOI: 10.1080/07256868.2013.827825

Berriane, M., H. de Haas and K. Natter (2015) ‘Introduction: Revisiting Moroccan Migrations’, The Journal of North African Studies, 20(4), pp. 503–521, DOI: 10.1080/13629387.2015.1065036

Berrissoule, B. (2018) ‘Conférence intergouvernementale sur les migrations : le Maroc donne l’éxemple’, L’Economiste, 12 December, (accessed on 9 May 2021).

Boyer, F., F. Lestage and M.-D. París Pombo (2018) Routes et pauses des parcours migratoires: Afrique-Amérique, CEMCA Série Anthropologie Numéro 03 (Mexico City and Guatemala City: CEMCA), (accessed on 21 April 2021).

Carretero, L. (2017) ‘Sahara occidental : comment le Maroc utilise l’immigration comme moyen de pression sur l’UE’, France 24, 21 February, (accessed on 22 April 2021).

Chakir Alaoui, M. (2015) ‘Migration : régularisation de la situation de 18.000 sans-papiers’, Le360.Ma, 9 February, (accessed on 21 April 2021).

Cherti, M. and M. Collyer (2015) ‘Immigration and Pensée d’Etat : Moroccan Migration Policy Changes as Transformation of Geopolitical Culture’, The Journal of North African Studies, 20(4), pp. 590–604, DOI: 10.1080/13629387.2015.1065043

CNDH (Conseil national des droits de l'homme) (2013) Conclusions et recommandations du rapport ‘étrangers et droits de l’homme au Maroc : Pour une politique d’asile et d’immigration radicalement nouvelle’ (Rabat: CNDH), (accessed on 21 April 2021).

CNDH (2006) Rapport sur l’établissement des faits relatifs à l’immigration illégale : évènements de Ceuta et Melillia durant l’automne 2005 (Rabat: CNDH), (accessed on 21 April 2021).

Coyault, B. (2015) ‘Les églises de maison congolaises de Rabat : la participation du secteur informel à la pluralisation religieuse au Maroc’, in N. Khrouz and N. Lanza (eds.) Migrants au Maroc, cosmopolitisme, présence d’étrangers et transformations sociales (Rabat: Centre Jacques-Berque and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung), pp. 55–64, (accessed on 21 April 2021).

Coyault, B. (2014) ‘L’africanisation de l’Église évangélique au Maroc : revitalisation d’une institution religieuse et dynamiques d’individualisation’, L’Année du Maghreb, 11, pp. 81–103, DOI: 10.4000/anneemaghreb.2243

Debbarh, J. (2014) ‘La nouvelle politique d’immigration et d’asile du Royaume du Maroc’, (Rabat: Ministère chargé des Marocains résidants à l’étranger et des affaires de la migration), (accessed on 9 May 2021).

El Miri, M. (2018) ‘Devenir noir sur les routes migratoires. Racialisation des migrants subsahariens et racisme global’, Sociologies de La Race et Racisme, 50(2), pp. 101–124, DOI: 10.7202/1066815ar

El-Qadim, N. (2015) Le gouvernement asymétrique des migrationsMaroc, Union européenne, Nouvelle Bibliothèque de Thèses Science Politique (Paris: Dalloz).

Ennaji, M. (2016) ‘Women, Gender, and Politics in Morocco’, Social Sciences, 5(4), p. 75, DOI: 10.3390/socsci5040075

European Commission (2018) Document de travail des services de la Commission accompagnant le document : Proposition de décision du Conseil relative à la signature, au nom de l’Union, de l’accord de partenariat dans le domaine de la pêche durable entre l’Union européenne et le Royaume du Maroc, de son protocole de mise en œuvre ainsi que d’un échange de lettres accompagnant ledit accord (Brussels: European Commission), (accessed on 21 April 2021).

Frontex (2021) Migratory Routes, (accessed on 22 April 2021).

Ghazouani, D.E. (2019) ‘A Growing Destination for Sub-Saharan Africans, Morocco Wrestles with Immigrant Integration’, Migrationpolicy.Org, 2 July, (accessed on 22 April 2021).

Hamdouch, B. and M. Mghari (2014) Impact de la migration internationale sur le développement au Maroc : résultats de l'enquête de 2013 (Rabat: IOM and MCMREAM).

HCP (Haut-Commisariat au Plan) (2020) La migration internationale au Maroc, résultats de l’enquête nationale sur la migration internationale 2018-2019 (Rabat: HCP), (accessed on 22 April 2021).

HCP (2017) Note d’information du Haut-Commissariat au Plan à l’occasion de la journée internationale des migrants 18 décembre 2017, (accessed on 22 April 2021).

HCP (2014) Étude sur les résidents étrangers au Maroc (Rabat: HCP), (accessed on 22 April 2021).

InfoMigrants (2020) ‘Ceuta et Melilla : La justice espagnole valide les refoulements automatiques de migrants illégaux’, InfoMigrants, 20 November, (accessed on 22 April 2021).

IOM (International Organization for Migration) (2020) Migration in West and North Africa and Across the Mediterranean. Trends, Risks, Development and Governance (Geneva: IOM), (accessed on 22 April 2021).

Jimenez-Alvarez, M., K. Espiñeira and L. Gazzotti (2020) ‘Migration Policy and International Human Rights Frameworks in Morocco: Tensions and Contradictions’, The Journal of North African Studies, pp. 1–19, DOI: 10.1080/13629387.2020.1800208

Kasraoui S. (2021), "Spanish FM: Brahim Ghali Will Stand Trial Before Leaving Spain", Morocco World News, 23 May, (accessed on 07 June 2021).

Lahlou, M. (2018) Migration Dynamics in Play in Morocco: Trafficking and Political Relationships and Their Implications at the Regional Level, MENARA Working Papers No. 26, (accessed on 22 April 2021).

Lambert, J. (2017) ‘Watered-Down Feminism: An Examination of Gender and Revolutionary Ideals in Morocco’, in L. Touaf, S. Boutkhil and C. Nasri (eds.) North African Women After the Arab Spring: In the Eye of the Storm (Cham: Springer International Publishing), pp. 97–120, DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-49926-0_5

Larramendi, M.H. de and F. Bravo (2006) ‘La frontière hispano-marocaine à l’épreuve de l’immigration subsaharienne’, L’Année du Maghreb, 1, pp. 153–171, DOI: 10.4000/anneemaghreb.291

Le Desk (2020) ‘Le Maroc rejette la demande de l’UE de réadmettre des migrants de pays tiers’, Le Desk, 15 December, (accessed on 22 April 2021).

Le Monde (2020), "Coronavirus : le Maroc joue la « diplomatie du masque » vers l’Afrique subsaharienne",, 15 June, (accessed on 31 May 2021).

Linard, F. (2017) Promotion des services psychosociaux et de services d’assistance aux migrants au Maroc. Rapport de l’étude sur les besoins psychosociaux des migrants et des professionnels de santé (Rabat: IOM), (accessed on 4 May 2021).

Lowe, C., N. Both, M. Foresti, A. Leach and K. Rist (2020) What Drives Reform? A Political Economy Analysis of Migration Policy in Morocco (London: ODI), (accessed on 22 April 2021).

Mahamadou Laouali, S. and J.-B. Meyer (2012) ‘Le Maroc, pays d’accueil d’étudiants étrangers’, Hommes et migrations. Revue française de référence sur les dynamiques migratoires, 1300, pp. 114–123, DOI: 10.4000/hommesmigrations.931

Martínez, L.F. (2009) ‘Les migrations en transit au Maroc. Attitudes et comportement de la société civile face au phénomène’, L’Année du Maghreb, 5, pp. 343–362, DOI: 10.4000/anneemaghreb.611

Massoui, S. and M. Séguin (2020) ‘Enquêter sur la violence conjugale au Maroc : les défis d’un féminisme intersectionnel du positionnement’, Recherches qualitatives, 39(1), pp. 107–129, DOI: 10.7202/1070018ar

Michalska, K. (2020) Migration Trends in Morocco: Implication for the European Union, PISM Bulletin (Warsaw: Polski Instytut Spraw Międzynarodowych), (accessed on 22 April 2021).

Ministère chargé des affaires de la migration (2017) Politique nationale d’immigration et d’asile - Rapport 2017 (Rabat: Ministère délégué auprès du MAECI chargé des Marocains résidant à l’étranger et des affaires de la migration), (accessed on 22 April 2021).

Mohammed VI (2018). ‘HM the King Sends Message to Intergovernmental Conference on Global Pact for Migration’, Maroc.Ma, 10 December 2018, (accessed on 10 May 2021).

Mohammed VI (2017) Full Speech of HM the King at 28th African Union Summit, 31 January, (accessed on 22 April 2021).

Mohammed VI (2013) Speech of HM the King on the Occasion of the 38th Anniversary of the Green March, 6 November, (accessed on 22 April 2021).

Naik, M. and G. Randolph (2018) Migration Junctions in India and Indonesia Reimagining Places, Reorienting Policy, Research Report (New Delhi and Washington, D.C.: JustJobs Network Inc.), (accessed on 22 April 2021).

Natter, K. (2018) ‘Rethinking Immigration Policy Theory Beyond Western Liberal Democracies’, Comparative Migration Studies, 6(4), pp. 1–21, DOI: 10.1186/s40878-018-0071-9.

OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) (2017) Interactions entre politiques publiques, migrations et développement au Maroc, Les voies du développement (Paris: OECD), (accessed on 22 April 2021).

Oelgemöller, C. and K. Allinson (2020) ‘The Responsible Migrant, Reading the Global Compact on Migration’, Law and Critique, 31, pp. 183–207, DOI: 10.1007/s10978-020-09265-9

Peraldi, M. (2012) ‘Le maghreb, laboratoire des nouvelles migrations’, in M. Mokhefi and A. Antil (eds.) Le Maghreb et son Sud: vers des liens renouvelés, CNRS éditions (Paris: CNRS), pp. 111–132.

Reques, L., E. Aranda-Fernandez, C. Rolland, A. Grippon, N. Fallet, C. Reboul, N. Godard and N. Luhmann (2020) ‘Episodes of Violence Suffered by Migrants Transiting Through Libya: A Cross-Sectional Study in “Médecins Du Monde’s” Reception and Healthcare Centre in Seine-Saint-Denis, France’, Conflict and Health, 14(12), pp. 1–6, DOI: 10.1186/s13031-020-0256-3

Simplicio, F. (2011) ‘South-South Development Cooperation: A Contemporary Perspective’, in R. Modi (ed.) South-South Cooperation, International Political Economy Series (London: Palgrave Macmillan), pp. 19–41, DOI: 10.1057/9780230316812_2

Slack, J. and D. Martinez (2021) ‘Postremoval Geographies: Immigration Enforcement and Organized Crime on the U.S.–Mexico Border’, Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 111(4), pp. 1062–1078, DOI: 10.1080/24694452.2020.1791039

UNECA (United Nations Economic Commission for Africa) (2014) La problématique de la migration dans les politiques et stratégies de développement en Afrique du Nord : analyse comparative (Rabat: UNECA), (accessed on 22 April 2021).

Vie Publique (2019) ‘Migrations africaines vers l’Europe : les données du rapport du PNUD’, Vie Publique, 25 November, (accessed on 22 April 2021).

Yahia, H. (2019) ‘More Than 23,000 Sub-Saharan African Students Graduate from Moroccan Universities’, Morocco World News, 24 October, (accessed on 22 April 2021).

Top of page


1 According to Morocco’s High Commission for Planning, using official statistics from the Directorate of Consular and Social Affairs (DACS) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Morocco counted 4.8 million Moroccans living abroad in January 2019, representing 14 per cent of the total population. More than four-fifths of them live in Europe. The number of Moroccans migrating abroad has increased considerably despite the multiplication of obstacles to immigration. By contrast, in 2015, the OECD counted about 2.8 million emigrants, representing 8 per cent of the total population (HCP, 2020; OECD, 2017).

2 Unless otherwise noted, all translations of quoted material are provided by the author.

3 IOM Missing Migrants Project database, Geneva. Available at (accessed on 4 May 2021).

4 These fears were shared by several Moroccan policymakers and civil society representatives on the margins of a series of conferences I attended, and during informal interviews I conducted in Morocco, Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire in 2018.

5 A report published by the Ministry of Migration stated that ‘At the international level, the National Immigration and Asylum Policy has become a regional model of responsible and solidarity-based management of the migratory phenomenon’ (Ministère chargé des affaires de la migration, 2017).

6 The Mowafaqa Institute is an ecumenical theological institute founded by the Catholic and Protestant Churches in 2012. It is based in Rabat.

7 343 million EUR = 411 million USD, 2018 conversion; 389 million EUR = 445 million USD, 2019 conversion.

8 Declaration of Khalid Zerouali, governor in charge of migration and border control at the Ministry of Interior (Le Desk, 2020).

9 Informal interviews conducted by the author with representatives of both institutions in the margins of a conference held at the International University of Rabat, 2018.

10 The authors redefine the concept of ‘Migration State’ (Hollifield) as a ‘liberal immigration state’ and propose three other types of migration state—nationalising, developmental and neoliberal—in order to enlarge the theoretical tools for analysing different migration policies (Adamson and Tsourapas, 2020).

11 ‘The nationalizing migration state poses a challenge to the dominance of economic and market concerns as motivating factors for state migration policies, highlighting instead the political and ideological roots of state migration policy and the prevalence of state-driven instances of forced displacement. […] The neoliberal migration state calls into question the centrality of rights-based migration policymaking and demonstrates how variations in state capacity (and autonomy) lead to differences in how states commodify cross-border migration flows’ (Adamson and Tsourapas, 2020, 863).

12 I discuss the concept of differentiation in this context in a discussion paper (Abourabi, 2017a).

Top of page

Cite this article

Electronic reference

Yousra Abourabi, Governing African Migration in Morocco: The Challenge of Positive DesecuritisationInternational Development Policy | Revue internationale de politique de développement [Online], 14 | 2022, Online since 25 April 2022, connection on 06 December 2023. URL:; DOI:

Top of page

About the author

Yousra Abourabi

Yousra Abourabi is an Assistant Professor of International Relations at Sciences Po Rabat. Her research focuses on Morocco’s foreign policy, more specifically on the new challenges of African continental governance (migration, security, gender and the environment). She is also an Academic Board member of the Global Campus for Human Rights and a member of the Political Affairs Cluster of the African Union’s Economic, Social & Cultural Council (ECOSOCC). She holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Lyon, Jean Moulin. Her recent publications include La politique africaine du Maroc: Identité de rôle et projection de puissance (2021, Brill-Nijhoff) and Maroc (2019, De Boeck).

Top of page



The text only may be used under licence CC BY-NC 4.0. All other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

Top of page
Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search