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  • Writer's pictureDahlia Foundation

By sea, by land: Desperate refugees still transit Morocco to get to Europe

The nearly 3,000 people who died in Morocco’s earthquake last month have refocused the world’s attention upon the kingdom, and a continuing exodus of people from across Africa passing through it to seek new lives in Europe.

Asylum seekers launching their journeys from Morocco, unlike those leaving from North African neighbours Tunisia and Libya, have a number of routes they can take to Europe.

More than 25,000 refugees and migrants have left Morocco this year so far – fewer than those leaving Tunisia and Libya but still significant.

At least 600, possibly many more, have died trying to make the crossing.

Asylum seekers, Moroccans or people transiting through the North African country from West Africa, all risk adding to the mounting death toll that the promise of a new life in the West exacts from the desperate.

Direction: By sea

Despite the high waves and vicious rocks that await them, thousands of refugees gather at Moroccan coastal cities like Agadir to take a boat to the Canary Islands, a Spanish island chain off the Atlantic coast of Africa. Shipwrecks and sinkings are commonplace.

In August, the Canary Islands said they were overwhelmed by refugee arrivals – 2,692 people that month, more than twice as many as in the same period last year.

Others look to the calmer, yet better-policed waters of the Mediterranean for passage, with smugglers even resorting to jet skis to ferry their passengers to Gibraltar, which can be seen from Morocco on a clear day.

Between January and June of this year, the NGO Caminando Fronteras said, about 951 people died trying to reach the Canary Islands or the Iberian Peninsula from across North Africa.

“It’s more of an artisan business there,” Carmen Gonzalez Enriquez, senior analyst at Spain’s Elcano Royal Institute, told Al Jazeera, comparing Moroccan smuggling to the multimillion-dollar migration operations being carried out by Libya’s militias.

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