Morocco begins deporting immigrants
Official defends use of force along border with Spanish enclaves
RABAT, Morocco -- Morocco defended its use of force in preventing Africans from crossing into two Spanish enclaves on its northern coast as it started deporting some of those caught storming border fences in recent weeks.
In an interview yesterday, the communications minister, Nabil Benabdallah, also accused neighboring Algeria, with whom Morocco has tense relations, of leaving its borders ''completely open" and allowing immigrants through ''without any surveillance."
Morocco has been criticized for its handling of attempts by thousands of Africans to rush razor-wire fences protecting the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. At least a dozen immigrants have been killed.
Benabdallah said Morocco is in a no-win situation. Previously it was criticized for not doing enough to stem African immigration. ''Then, when we used other means, including force, we created some humanitarian problems. It is not possible to fight this problem without causing humanitarian problems," he said.
His comments came as Morocco began deporting immigrants, starting with a flight carrying 140 Senegalese back to Dakar. More than 900 Senegalese and Malians were to be sent home yesterday and today.
''We are happy to be going home, because here there are many problems," a 26-year-old Senegalese who gave his name as Abdoulaye said before he boarded the first flight from Oujda, in northeast Morocco. Moroccan police also were aboard, although the passengers were not handcuffed.
Those being deported did so willingly, Benabdallah said. He said the fate of others refusing to return would be determined after a plan is worked out by the countries involved.
''We need maybe a global discussion," he said. ''We cannot find a solution on our own."
He said Morocco does not want another diplomatic crisis with Algeria but added: ''I think Algeria doesn't want to take responsibility."
In a statement released Sunday, Algeria's Foreign Ministry said that nearly 6,000 illegal immigrants were caught on Algerian territory in 2004. It said police action is ''insufficient in such a sensitive and complex situation" and that all nations affected must cooperate.
Kofi A. Annan, the UN secretary general, also urged the international community yesterday to do more to resolve problems driving migration.
''What is important is that we don't make a futile attempt to prevent people from crossing borders," Annan said in Geneva in response to questions about the crisis along the Spanish-Moroccan border. ''The moving of people will continue."
Meanwhile, Benabdallah denied allegations by the aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres that Morocco abandoned some immigrants in the desert, although he said the immigrants' numbers are so large he could not say for certain whether all have received water and food.
Medecins Sans Frontieres, also known as Doctors Without Borders, reported last week that Moroccan authorities left between 600 and 700 Africans in the desert near the Algerian border after Spain expelled them from Melilla and Ceuta.
After an outcry in Spain, Moroccan authorities rounded up about 1,500 migrants and put them on buses over the weekend, said Carlos Ugarte, the group's spokesman. He said he did not know where they were being taken. Spanish TV showed that many of the Africans were handcuffed to one another.