Morocco Criticism: Behind the Scenes Only

As is the case every year with his Independence Day address in August, the Moroccan king hardly looks out of his newspaper while reading. But unlike other years, this year the Netherlands was suddenly mentioned in the list of “friendly countries”. King Mohammed VI said the Netherlands had taken a “constructive position” regarding Moroccan interests.

How different it has been in recent years. There is no country with which the Netherlands quarrels so openly as Morocco. Countries criticized each other in parliament, invited ambassadors, and canceled appointments. Most important for the Netherlands: Morocco can no longer take back asylum seekers who have exhausted legal remedies.

For years, Morocco refused to cooperate with their deportation. In this way, these “safe migrants” have become an example of a failed policy of deportation: asylum seekers who have no chance of obtaining a residence permit, who in some cases steal and cause inconvenience, but cannot be returned. Because there is no prospect of return, they cannot be held in an immigration detention center. “Something has to be invented,” Utrecht mayor Sharon Dijksma said in the newspaper last week. ad About a nuisance to a group of svilanders in Hoog Catharijne.

But Morocco and the Netherlands have come close to each other. This was not clear only from the speech of King Mohammed VI. It turned out last week at the United Nations summit, where the Moroccan and Dutch flags fluttered side by side on the table. Minister Hoekstra (CDA) and his Moroccan colleague discussed their “strong relationship”, Hoekstra tweeted.

It was also possible recently to return Moroccan foreign nationals. Morocco agreed to this after “constructive conversations,” according to an internal email received by Ministry of Justice and Security staff two weeks ago. The state has confirmed the citizenship of 100 Moroccans who have been nominated to return, and the first travel documents have already been issued.

According to the internal mail, the Netherlands can start again arresting Moroccan foreigners on charges of forcible deportation. A direct result of improved relationships. But at what cost? The NRC spoke with those involved in the deal with Morocco about what the Netherlands had to give up.

The protests subsided

In 2015, the Dutch Foreign Ministry wants to increase press freedom in Morocco. to Unlimited free press The Ministry is preparing the Storymaker project, where citizens learn to create press videos using an application. Several Moroccan journalists are collaborating. A year later, hundreds of thousands of rural residents took to the streets to protest the deprivation of the rural area. Morocco stifles protests by arresting activists and journalists. For this purpose, Morocco uses the Dutch project: journalists are being prosecuted for their involvement in “undermining” the story-maker. The face of the protests, Nasser Zefzafi, will be jailed for 20 years in 2018.

Then the Netherlands reacts sharply to the way Morocco is suppressing protests. Former Minister Steve Block described the sentences as “high”. Morocco is asking for a fair trial. And in doing so, he goes further than his fellow European ministers: they keep their mouths shut.

The consequences of Block’s words are quickly apparent. When the Repatriation and Departure Service (DT&V) staff later arrive at the Moroccan Embassy to discuss the deportation of foreigners, they hear that “everything will be closed.” It was decided above not to issue travel documents. “You probably understand why,” an embassy employee told DT&V at the time.

Eight thousand immigrants

Morocco is putting pressure on immigration countries. Spain will notice this in May 2021. Morocco will open the border crossing with the Spanish enclave of Ceuta for one night, due to dissatisfaction with Spain’s position in the Western Sahara conflict. Eight thousand migrants cross the border. After that, Spain is still behind the Moroccan plans.

At the end of 2019, the refusal to return immigrants also caused political problems for then-Secretary of State for Asylum Brookers-Knoll. While the Chamber demands her to arrange her return, the Moroccan ambassador does not even want to receive her to talk about it. The entire House of Representatives reacted with fury. Broekers-Knol will turn it into a “mess.” She had been “defecated by Morocco”.

Prime Minister Rutte intervenes. Sources say that with then-foreign ministers Sigrid Kaj and Steve Blok, he decided in 2020 that the relationship with Morocco should be good at all costs. In 2021, countries will sign an Action Plan. The content is unknown, the House can only see the ‘main lines’. The plan is the beginning of a new relationship, in which Morocco is willing to take back the migrants, as long as there is enough in return.

Morocco, for example, can use help in the fight against drought and soil salinization. It’s a subject the Netherlands has a lot of knowledge about. For this reason, and in order to strengthen ties, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is flying over experts to help Moroccans with this.

The most important is the support provided by the Netherlands in the Western Sahara conflict, the most important file of the Moroccan King. He considers the region one of his southern states, while the separatists view Morocco as an aggressor who occupied their country. So far, the Netherlands has always sought a solution that both sides could agree on. Until Woebke Hoekstra himself suddenly heard from Marrakesh last May: Together with the Moroccan minister, he called the Moroccan solution to the conflict “credible”. Holland will be thanked in the King’s annual address.

Another commitment from the Netherlands: “Explore” an extradition treaty. Morocco has wanted such a treaty for some time, in part because the Netherlands is one of the country’s biggest enemies: Said Sy of Roosendaal, suspected of drug smuggling, is considered by Morocco a major financier of the protests in the Rif. region. What angered Morocco was that the Dutch judge prevented his extradition, fearing that he would have a fair trial in Morocco.

The extradition treaty means that Dutch judges from now on must assume that human rights are respected in Morocco, says international law professor of international law Geert Jan Nobbs of the University of Amsterdam. With such a treaty, you give Morocco’s constitutional state a legal seal, as it were. Only: does Morocco deserve this quality mark? I don’t think so in light of reports of torture, corruption and political persecution.”

But Morocco does not want to hear more about human rights – this too, according to insiders, is part of the renewed relationship between Morocco and the Netherlands. And in order not to offend Morocco, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs considered that criticism is carried out only behind the scenes. “How accused are you of talking about human rights, if you also have other things to discuss that are in our best interest?” , So said a Dutch person involved in the Morocco deal.

And if criticism must be expressed openly, then only in a bloc with other countries. “Why should we all be referring to human rights? You can also leave that to the EU.”

Diplomatic pressure

The new path the Netherlands is taking has immediate consequences for the Moroccan journalists who have faced problems. In 2021, two journalists, Omar Radi and Maati Monjib, will be tried, because of their relationship with the Netherlands. Monjib because he got money from the Storymaker, content even to “spy” for the Netherlands. Their families and friends are pleading with the Netherlands to refute the accusations. And to exert maximum diplomatic pressure on Morocco. But from Holland is still calm.

“It could have helped,” said Hisham Al-Mansoori, one of the accused journalists who worked on the project. “Morocco is very sensitive to propaganda. There are many examples of journalists being released only after international protests erupted over their case. But the Netherlands did not want to do anything.”

Evelien Wijkstra of Free Press also noted this. Monjib’s case will be referred to the Media Freedom Alliance in 2021. The coalition of countries, chaired by the Netherlands, usually addresses other countries about the prosecution of journalists. “Unfortunately, the Netherlands has not looked into this case,” he added.

Martin den Heiger, an expert on international migration law at the UvA, says Morocco has a grip on Europe. Asylum seekers are used as a medium of exchange. Every country is blackmailed in this way.” The problem, he says, is that Europe does not speak with one voice. “As long as all European countries make their own agreements, Morocco can play one against the other.”

The result is that Morocco is no longer responsible for human rights abuses, says Free Press’s Wijkstra. “This is the effect if you align with authoritarian countries like Morocco. You give them help, so you are not able to criticize.”

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