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Morocco: No date set for return of nationals stranded abroad, Belgium, Netherlands accused of discrimination 

Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita (C) attends with his delegation a press briefing closing two days of talks on the Western Sahara region, a disputed region since 2012, on December 6, 2018 at the UN Offices in Geneva. [Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP/ Getty Images]
Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita (C) at a press briefing on 6 December 2018 at the UN Offices in Geneva [Fabrice COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images]

Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita has not disclosed the date of the return of Moroccans stranded abroad during his appearance before Parliament on Thursday. He accused the Netherlands and Belgium of discrimination against dual nationals during the evacuations of European citizens from Morocco, causing a serious debate.

Morocco is the only country in the world that has not evacuated its nationals stranded abroad, due to the closure of borders on 15 March, following the spread of the coronavirus. This has been causing severe political controversy in Morocco, where some parties press for the return of the stranded nationals, while human rights associations have formed a body to defend those affected. Public opinion waited for the minister to appear before the Committee on Foreign Relations and Defence and Islamic Affairs to provide clarification regarding those stranded abroad.

Bourita only announced that 22,000 Moroccans are awaiting return to their homeland, stressing that the ministry will pay for the residence of 3,844 of them in a number of countries, including the US.

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The minister avoided specifying any date for the return of the stranded Moroccans, and only talked about "the start of returning them very soon" through stages, stressing their constitutional right to return. He also discussed the criteria for the return of the stranded nationals and mainly giving priority to humanitarian cases and not geographical proximity, as news leaked in the beginning about the opening of the borders to the stranded people in the occupied Ceuta and Melilla, as their evacuation requires only the opening of the land border crossing.

In a file related to Morocco's closure of the borders, which is the licensing of Moroccans residing in European countries, the minister strongly criticised the behaviour of the Netherlands and Belgium and accused them of giving priority to the Belgians and the Dutch during the first evacuations. "After the Netherlands deported its citizens, it asked Morocco to provide licenses to deport Moroccans with Dutch citizenship from Tangier, Al Hoceima and Nador airports, mainly the rural areas," disclosed Bourita.

After emphasising Morocco's rejection of this logic, he revealed that Morocco had not had any concerns with the rest of the countries that Moroccans have their nationalities or residence papers, except with Belgium and the Netherlands.

READ: COVID-19 cases, deaths rise in Arab countries

The foreign minister's statements left mixed reactions. A number of Moroccan activists in Europe criticised him, questioning his silence throughout this period regarding what he considered to be discrimination by Brussels and Amsterdam. At the same time, other Moroccans residing in Spain, France and Germany protested and rejected the official Moroccan version of the issue and asked: "If there is a problem with the Netherlands and Belgium, why were residents of other European countries prevented from leaving?"

The Moroccan authorities have so far authorised residents or holders of US citizenship to leave Morocco.

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