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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
06RABAT359 2006-02-28 21:36:00 SECRET Embassy Rabat
Cable title:  

GOM REFUGEE POLICY: LIMITED INTERNATIONAL

Tags:   MO PGOV PREF PREL 
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1. (C) MFA Secretary General Omar Hilale told Polcouns
February 22 that the GOM had "no objection" to an
international refugee resettlement program out of Morocco
provided it remained low-key, with as little media attention
as possible to avoid attracting more would-be refugees to
Morocco. He stated bluntly that any migrants identified by
UNHCR as refugees were, in fact, "UNHCR's problem," and
Morocco would not allow them to stay in the country.
Morocco, moreover, would not extend any special protection to
the refugees beyond facilitating their departure from Morocco
through international resettlement. Agreeing to
international resettlement involves "no legal recognition on
our part" of their status in Morocco as refugees, Hilale
stressed.



2. (C) Hilale, who was joined in the meeting by MFA Director
of UN Affairs Nasser Bourita, commented he had just met with
UNHCR Morocco Representative Johannes Van der Klauw that
morning, and he believed the two had an agreement on
Morocco's terms for establishing international resettlement.
Polcouns noted that US Cairo-based regional refugee
coordinator planned to visit Morocco the week of March 6 to
explore international resettlement options with UNHCR, the
GOM, and other potentially interested third countries (Note:
UNHCR has scheduled a meeting on March 6 for visiting
regional ref coord and numerous diplomatic missions that
might be interested in small-scale resettlement out of
Morocco). Polcouns walked Hilale through the planned visit,
much of which UNHCR had already briefed him on. He welcomed
the visit and appeared comfortable with the proposed program.
(Hilale will meet with UNHCR and ref coord on March 3).

Better Relations with UNHCR


--------------------------





3. (C) Hilale noted that relations between UNHCR and the GOM
had improved significantly in the last few months. Hilale
said that prior to Van der Klauw's arrival, UNHCR was not
screening applicants for refugee status carefully and was
handing out refugee certificates willy nilly, including to
those who were clearly economic migrants. There was
substantial documentation fraud, Hilale charged, and no
attempt on UNHCR's part to "apply the rules." In addition to
the avalanche of migrants into Morocco that led to assaults
on the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in the fall of
2005, resulting in a dozen deaths, Hilali said the GOM was
concerned about trafficking networks and possible terrorists
taking advantage of the migrant explosion to move into and
through Morocco. This was a potential security problem, he
said. Morocco was concerned about terrorist cells and
trafficking mafias mixing in with the migrants.



4. (C) Hilale said there were some 150 individuals that
UNHCR identified as refugees from the many hundred of
migrants they had interviewed up to now. The majority of the
bona fide refugees were from eastern Congo and the Ivory
Coast. As part of the low-key approach envisaged by Morocco,
Hilale said the refugees should not be informed of their
resettlement destinations until the last minute. Polcouns
said he understood why Morocco would not want to become more
of a magnet than it already was for migrants, but noted that
there would have to be refugee screening and processing done
by individual countries, and it was probably unrealistic if
not illegal to keep the refugees in the dark until the last
minute about where they would be resettled.



5. (C) Polcouns asked how the GOM intended to treat those
migrants who did not qualify as refugees, in light of reports
that some had been rounded up and dumped in the Western
Sahara or on the Algerian border. Hilale said flatly that
economic migrants cannot stay in Morocco. The GOM was
working closely with several African embassies in Rabat,
especially the Nigerian, to repatriate migrants voluntarily.
The GOM felt this effort was working well and enjoyed the
cooperation of the governments involved. Hilale said the

Nigerian government had specifically requested the support of
Morocco in repatriating its nationals. Hilale said tougher
border controls in Ceuta and Melilla had discouraged migrants
from coming to Morocco, and for the time being the crisis of
last fall had passed. Hilale said Algeria may have responded
to some pressure from UNHCR and Europe to crack down on
illegal transit, but there was "zero cooperation" on the
migration issue between Morocco and Algeria. Hilale
emphasized that the repatriations thus far had been voluntary
Asked about treatment of those who refused to return home,
Hilale said he did not envision a massive round-up of
migrants; if people remained under the radar screen and out
of trouble, Hilale granted many would probably end up staying
in Morocco regardless of Morocco's official policy. Whatever
the situation, Hilale concluded, Morocco could not handle
illegal migrants on its own, without political and financial
help from Europe and the international community.

UNHCR's View


--------------------------





6. (C) During a February 24 meeting with poloffs to follow
up on the Hilale meeting (septel), Van der Klauw agreed there
was a "gentleman's agreement" with Hilale on Morocco's terms
for conducting international resettlement, but Van der Klauw
stressed he had made no guarantees to Hilale that UNHCR would
resettle the whole refugee caseload -- only that he would try
his best. Spain and Portugal, he said, had both taken small
numbers of refugees from Morocco recently. He hoped such
non-traditional resettlement countries could be induced to
participate further in resettlement efforts, something he
hoped to ascertain at the meeting on March 6. As to
Morocco's handling of migrants not accorded refugee status,
Van der Klauw was less sanguine in his view about their
treatment at the hands of the Moroccan authorities.

Comment


--------------------------





7. (C) Morocco's homegrown, cut-and-dried refugee policy may
be somewhat at odds with international refugee law, and naive
as well in terms of Hilale's insistence that the resettlement
effort remain under wraps. Nevertheless, there is a good
working relationship now between UNHCR and the MFA, and
apparently frequent communication between the two offices,
which will help the two navigate through some of the
challenges that lie ahead. While we understand the US is
open to resettling some of the refugee caseload from Morocco,
we do recognize the pull factor for Morocco, and encourage
UNHCR and the USG to do this without a lot of fanfare. We
have little doubt that the GOM will reverse course quickly if
they see an up-tick in illegal migrants and find themselves
in the spotlight as they were with the border assaults in the
fall.
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Riley