Morocco: The Myth of Reintegration

Despite some conflicts, migration policy cooperation between Morocco and Germany is considered exemplary. In the context of return, a comprehensive reintegration infrastructure has been established at the  local level. This may help to increase return rates. It fails to provide people with positive prospects for the future, however.

by Salaheddine Lemaizi, freelance journalist in Casablanca, and Nina Violetta Schwarz, migration researcher in Berlin.

Since 2015, Germany and the EU have increasingly been working on the further development of programmes for the repatriation of refugees and migrants. Within the framework of development policy programmes and in the context of “fighting the causes of flight”, repatriation measures are increasingly linked to the establishment of (re)integration strategies in the entire North African region and the Middle East. New Year's Eve in Cologne in 2015/16 accelerated the trend toward increased repatriations: There were a large number of sexualized assaults on women at the time, most of which were attributed to men from the Arab region. This marked a turning point in conjunctures of racism in Europe: since this event, many debates have been about (especially, but not only) criminal refugees and migrants being repatriated to their “home countries” as quickly as possible. In September 2016, King Mohamed VI of Morocco met with the German Chancellor to push forward “the repatriation of Moroccan nationals in Germany”.

Trend toward repatriation

The issue of the return and readmission of Moroccans from Germany has been one of the main topics in bilateral relations for more than two decades. From the German perspective, Morocco is an exemplary partner in the region – reliable and “eager to optimise and streamline the management of migration flows”, according to the Moroccan government itself. The country is also repeatedly on the list of possible “safe” countries of origin. After 2015, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) began to assume more and more tasks in the field of migration, implementing both programmes on regular labour mobility between North Africa and Europe, (re)integration programmes such as “Merhaba-Welcome to Morocco” and the "Migration for Development" (PME) initiative. This targets both Moroccan returnees and transit migrants in the country. PME is part of the initiative “Perspektive Heimat” and mediates via so-called reintegration scouts from Germany directly to partner organisations in the country of origin - and thus also to GIZ (re)integration programmes in Morocco.

The trend toward increased repatriation from Germany and Europe, which fits into the Moroccan immigration strategy being pursued since 2013, can boast many achievements: associations and groups in the field of migration in Morocco report “swarms” of EU-European organisations offering financial resources and project guidelines tied to them. At the top of the agenda are integrative measures for mostly vulnerable migrant groups, especially Moroccans who have returned, been deported or are willing to leave the country, as well as transit migrants on their way to Europe. The roots of this development are to be found in the surging financial resources earmarked for development cooperation in the so-called “fight against the causes of flight”. In the case of Morocco, the ultimate goal is to prevent transit migration from third countries south of Morocco to the EU and to increase the number of repatriations from the EU to the global south.

Cooperation suspended for the time being

While the focus in Germany is on repatriation and reintegration in the respective “home countries”, Moroccan authorities display black-red-gold posters drawing attention to German-Moroccan projects offering the prospect of return. For example, the Moroccan-German Migration Advisory Centres (Espaces d'information maroco-allemand, EIMA) in the National Employment Agencies (ANAPEC) are responsible here. They have been established and are operated by GIZ in cooperation with the German Federal Employment Agency. The offices in Casablanca, Beni Mellal, Fez, Oujda and Tangier provide advice on legal migration to Germany, on access to the German labour market, and also on training and employment opportunities in Morocco, for example after return.

How effective are these offers after three years? Our research in the spring of 2021 was conducted in a tense political climate. Moroccan-German cooperation on return and reintegration was suspended due to political differences between Germany and Morocco. On 1 March 2021, the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs first requested Moroccan “ministries to (...) suspend all contacts, interactions or actions (...) with both the German Embassy in Morocco and its associated German cooperation agencies and political foundations.” The reasons for this diplomatic rift were not officially stated by the Moroccan government. Unofficially, it is said to be due to recently formulated German positions on the Western Sahara conflict. The recall of the Moroccan ambassador from Germany in May is also related to this. So the centres have come to a standstill. It is currently unclear when cooperation will resume in full. Neither the GIZ nor the German government are commenting on this publicly. In this climate, we were also denied an up-to-date evaluation on the migration counselling centres by ANAPEC.

After several thousand Moroccans entered the Spanish enclave of Ceuta on 17 May 2021, and many other migrants, especially from sub-Saharan Africa, made their way from Tangier to the Spanish mainland in rubber dinghies, the relationship between Morocco and the EU became even more tense. This is because the interim suspension of the agreed border security arrangement is also seen to be a move by Morocco related to its disagreements with the EU over the Western Sahara conflict. Moroccan migration management for the EU is closely linked to Morocco’s geopolitical interests. Within this framework, the country acts as Europe’s “gatekeeper”, playing “the migration card” one way or the other, as its interests dictate. When, as is currently the case, the government makes migration policy measures dependent on concessions from the EU regarding the recognition of Western Sahara as Moroccan territory, it is pursuing interests in an entirely different political conflict.

Incomplete evaluations

But it is not only since these recent bilateral conflicts that the German programme for return and reintegration has stagnated. It has been apparent for some time that the implementation and sustainability of reintegration are only of secondary importance - for both countries. With the Moroccan government, this is visible in the fact that in public speeches at the opening of the centres by ANAPEC officials, the reintegration aspect of returnees has been emphasised less than the dimension of the integration of Moroccans in occupations in Germany. This is not surprising, since reintegration assistance for returnees is not one of the main tasks of the national employment agency and it tends to be a “tag-along” in cooperation in this area. In 2019, according to ANAPEC, 2,849 counselling sessions were held at the centres and 68 information sessions were organised with 2,252 clients. It is not specified, however, whether these were “voluntary” returnees, deported persons, or people in Morocco who wanted information about legal migration routes to Germany. Overall, information is very scanty and incomplete. For example, there is a dearth of data on the number of returnees who have been supported in the context of specific business start-up projects or general reintegration into working life. Young job-seekers criticise the fact that there is hardly any support or even successful job dovetailing – neither by EIMA nor ANAPEC. The evaluations, but also the approach of ANAPEC, make it clear that reintegration in the migration counselling centre is only of marginal interest to the Moroccans. And what role does it play for the Germans? It appears to above all be important to be able to point out that there is a programme to support reintegration. Whether it works and proves successful is of secondary importance. After all, anyone who comes here has long since left Europe. The work performed by the migration counselling centres is not even close to being satisfactory, because it is based on a political decision taken in 2016, which was primarily aimed at successful repatriations. The so-called fight against the causes of flight is nothing more than window-dressing.

Repatriation and reintegration by the IOM

In addition to the return programmes mentioned above, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has had its own Voluntary Return Programme from Germany to Morocco since 2018. Although the numbers are small, Germany is among the top 5 countries using the programme, as shown by data from the IOM Morocco reports on “Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration in Morocco” in 2018 and 2019: In 2018, 16 Moroccans returned from Germany with the help of the IOM programme, 45 in 2019, and six in the first half of 2020, according to a preliminary assessment. The IOM’s return programme also promises financial support during the phase of occupational reintegration. Despite the UN agency’s expertise in this area, however, IOM returnees have struggled to successfully implement and complete their projects. These difficulties have been exacerbated by the Covid19 pandemic, according to a survey of returnees conducted by IOM Morocco. 97 per cent of respondents said they were experiencing economic woes due to lack of access to the labour market. More than one in two were unable to continue their economic activities. These figures show how very fragile reintegration projects are as well as their low level of effectiveness.

EU migration control in Africa

The goal of reintegration is to emphasise that conditions have been optimised for a new start after deportation or “voluntary” return: It is about legitimising these programmes to the outside world and persuading stakeholders to return. In reality on the ground, “reintegration” proves to be a mere euphemism. It is an instrument for the management of migration outside of European territory. This technique of promoting integration policies in states bordering on the EU expands and stabilises the EU border regime, which has thus successively moved to a more forward position on the African continent. This follows a logic in which violent practices of sealing off Europe and integration programmes with a humanitarian veneer complement each other. In this way, a system is being established that serves regulation and selection at the border and is no longer dependent solely on checkpoints along geographical borders.

“The GIZ's migration advisory centres and (re)integration programmes in Morocco are reinforcing European policies aimed at isolation and sealing off Europe. In the name of a development policy mission, they are embedding migration control and defence in Moroccan politics in the pursuit of EU interests.”

Nina Violetta Schwarz coordinates the Rückkehr-Watch project for medico international.