Morocco has accused Algeria of expelling 55 Syrian migrants across the countries’ shared border and summoned Algeria’s ambassador to criticize it for “inhumane behavior”, in the latest row between the North African rivals.
Moroccan ministry of foreign affairs said in a statement on Sunday that 54 Syrians attempted to enter Morocco through the border town of Figuig, an area surrounded by mountains, between April 17 and 19. It accused Algeria of forcing them to cross into Morocco.
“Algeria must assume political responsibility and morality concerning this situation,” the ministry statement on MAP state news agency said.
“It is immoral and unethical to manipulate the moral and physical distress of these people, (and) to sow trouble in the Morocco-Algerian border.”
They had reached the area in several groups before being “surrounded” by the Algerian police amid searing heat in the rugged terrain, according to the Moroccan authorities.
Rabat condemned its North African neighbor’s “inhumane behavior” towards the migrants, who included “women and children in a very vulnerable situation”.
The expulsion was “contrary to the rules of good neighborliness advocated by Morocco,” it said.
The Moroccan media reported that the Syrians had been left to their fate in the border region as Morocco prevented them from entering its territory.
The ministry’s statement did not say whether they had been allowed to seek asylum in Morocco.
“This is not the first time that the Algerian authorities have expelled immigrants to Moroccan territory,” it said.
An NGO official in Figuig, who requested anonymity, said the migrants were still stuck at the border Saturday in two groups, without access to water or food.
Refugees and the Algerian-Moroccan tension
Some 5,000 Syrians have gone through a migration regulatory process in Morocco, with several hundred receiving refugee status, according to Morocco’s ministry of foreign affairs.
Morocco adopted a new migration policy in 2013. In December it launched a new campaign to regularize the status of clandestine migrants on its territory, most of them from sub-Saharan Africa.
Rabat insists its migration policy is “humane and generous,” in contrast, it says, with the policy of its Algerian rival.
In January 2014, Morocco summoned Algeria’s ambassador to protest against its alleged expulsion of Syrians across their common border.
Algeria responded in kind, saying its border guards had merely refused to allow Syrians deported by Morocco to enter its territory.
Morocco and Algeria share a 1,500 km (970 mile) land border that runs from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sahara Desert which has been shut since 1994.
The North African neighbors have had a contentious relationship since independence from France. Border disputes triggered an armed conflict in the 1960s known as the “Sand War”.
One of their biggest disputes has been over Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, most of which Morocco annexed in 1975. Algeria supports and hosts the Western Saharan independence movement Polisario, a stance which angers Morocco.