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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
07CASABLANCA135 2007-07-20 12:31:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Consulate Casablanca
Cable title:  

GOVERNMENT OF MOROCCO TO SIGN ACCORD WITH UNHCR

Tags:   PHUM SMIG PREF PREL SOCI MO 
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1. (U) This message is sensitive but unclassified. Please protect
accordingly.



2. (SBU) Summary: On June 20, the Government of Morocco announced
it would sign a cooperation agreement with the United Nations High
Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) delivering full diplomatic status to
the UNHCR office in Rabat. The surprise announcement came from
Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) Secretary General Omar Hilale,
during UNHCR's annual observation of World Refugee Day. The new
status will mean that the UNHCR Mission will have the ability to
move forward authoritatively on a number of proposals and will be
able to work officially for the first time with a number of Moroccan
Ministries and organizations. According to UNHCR's Office Director
the expected signing date for the accord is July 20, in Geneva. End
Summary.



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


Agreement Announced


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





3. (U) After more than a year of negotiations, the GOM surprised
UNHCR officials by announcing its plan to sign a cooperation
agreement and officially recognize UNHCR's mission in Rabat. The
announcement, delivered by MFA Secretary General Omar Hilale, came
during the organization's June 20 World Refugee Day gathering in
Rabat. For months negotiations languished over a paragraph,
inserted into the accord by the GOM, requesting that UNHCR Rabat
take over responsibility for Western Sahara refugee issues. This
request was in direct conflict with UNHCR's mandate to seperate the
Rabat mission's work from any issues in the Western Sahara.



4. (SBU) According to UNHCR's office director Johannes Van Der
Klaauw the GOM had given his organization no indication that the
Western Sahara paragraph was dropped or that the agreement was
imminent. Van Der Klaauw told poloff that he believed that the
GOM's decision to change the status of the office from honorary to
official was in part a direct result of a number of measures taken
by his office in the last 18 months. Van Der Klaauw said that the
GOM has been concerned that official recognition of the office would
create a magnet for sub-Saharan migrants seeking refugee status. He
explained, however, that his updated handling process for possible
refugees and asylum seekers has proven successful and has actually
reduced significantly the number of sub-Saharans seeking refuge at
the Rabat office.



5. (SBU) Van Der Klaauw claimed the GOM had been watching closely
to see how his office handled a number of issues that could have
reflected poorly on Morocco, including: a roundup and forced
deportation of recognized refugees and clandestine migrants by
Moroccan security forces in December of 2006; the outcome of
numerous sit-ins in front of UNHCR's office; and most recently, a
very frank interview with Van Der Klaauw on Al Jazeera TV. Van Der
Klaauw views the two years since his arrival in Morocco as a test by
the GOM. "It looks like we finally passed" quipped Van Der Klaauw
to poloff.



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


The Next Steps for UNHCR


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





6. (SBU) Official recognition of the mission will mean diplomatic
status for UNHCR for the first time since an honorary office was
established in Casablanca fifty years ago. The accord will permit
UNHCR staff to move about the country freely to deal with refugee
issues that occur outside the capital and especially in the
north-east where refugees mix with clandestine migrants in high
numbers.

7 (U) The new accord will also open the door for UNHCR to begin
working officially with the GOM to assist recognized refugees and
asylum seekers. Van Der Klaauw is in the process of finalizing a
Plan of Action which will soon be submitted to Moroccan authorities.
The Plan will propose a joint registration system for refugees and
asylum seekers as well as numerous joint projects to assist UNHCR
persons of interest through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the
Ministry of the Interior, and the Ministries of Health and
Education.



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


Comment


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





8. (U) Comment: In recent years Morocco has become an increasingly
popular transit point for clandestine migrants from sub-Saharan
countries on their way to a European "El Dorado". Morocco feels
pressure both domestically and from the EU to manage the flow of
illegal migrants in the country. Because of this pressure the GOM
has been slow to react to UNHCR's request for recognition, fearing
an even larger deluge of migrants seeking to gain refugee status
with UNHCR. Morocco has also been concerned about refugees from
countries as far away as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and
the Ivory Coast, who travel great distances and pass through
numerous other countries with UNHCR missions, stopping in Morocco to
seek refugee status and causing a financial drain on the country.
While their concerns are understandable they are, according to
UNHCR, irrelevant.



9. (U) In granting diplomatic status to UNCHR, however,
the GOM has finally acknowledged that there are legitimate refugees
and asylum seekers among the thousands of migrants who pass through
their country every year. With this accord, Morocco has finally
begun to fulfill its international responsibilities to the UN
Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. End Comment.

GREENE