On 20 June 2017, Morocco agreed to take in thirteen Syrian families that had been stuck at the Moroccan-Algerian border for months under alarming conditions. The group of 28 people included ten children and several individuals in need of medical attention.

Initially, the group had attempted to reach the Moroccan border town of Figuig on 18 April 2017, but had been pushed back by the Moroccan authorities; eleven individuals were even deported that same day. While a few asylum-seekers were granted visas to Morocco on the basis of family reunification, a number of them were still stuck in legal limbo; barred from accessing asylum procedures in Morocco and unwilling or unable to apply for asylum in Algeria. For two months, the group was living in alarming conditions in makeshift tents exposed to harsh weather conditions and lacking food and water. The group was also without access to healthcare or support from UNHCR or civil society organisations.

The border has been a point of contention between the two countries for decades and it seems that the asylum-seekers were caught up this latent dispute. The Moroccan authorities publically accused the Algerian authorities of forcing the asylum-seekers to cross the border, which the Algerian authorities denied; they then proceeded  to accuse the Moroccan authorities of expelling the same group of asylum-seekers back to Algeria.

The Moroccan authorities finally accepted the remaining individuals unto the territory and granted them protection on the basis of humanitarian considerations and in the context of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The authorities stated that this was “an exceptional measure dictated by humanist values”.

Hisham Rachidi, Secretary General of the Moroccan human rights organization GADEM told ECRE: “Together with other organisations we have worked hard to advocate that the Moroccan government accepts the group to their territory and we are welcoming their decision to take up responsibility.”

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Photo: GADEM