In Morocco, can education stem undocumented migration?

A local market in Medina, Marrakech. Photo by: Rebecca Root / Devex

MARRAKECH, Morocco — While the Moroccan government looks to Spain to provide education programs in hopes of stemming the flow of migrants and retaining its young people, sector professionals question whether the plan can work.

Last year, 62,000 arrivals made it to Spanish territory, 21% of whom were from Morocco. A further 13,721 attempted to enter Spain but were unsuccessful. Some cross the Strait of Gibraltar in inflatable boats; while others climb fences in an effort to reach the Spanish territories of Ceuta and Melilla, which have a land border with Morocco.

“The situation for young [Moroccan] people is pretty bleak in terms of access to opportunity.”

— Camille Le Coz, policy analyst, Migration Policy Institute Europe

Many of these are young people struggling to find work — 26% of Morocco’s youth are unemployed, and often see nearby Spain as a potential place of employment.

The Moroccan government, however, wants to encourage its youth to stay and contribute to economic growth.

Both governments see increased education as a potential solution — a strategy also being broadly pursued by the European Union as it attempts to find ways for development programming to reduce undocumented migration.

For Spain and Morocco, this has meant both in-country education programs and foreign exchanges. But analysts stress that education opportunities do not always lead to increased employment, and said the strategy needs to be carefully considered.

How education could be a solution

Kawtar Hanafi, 23, is originally from Rabat and studied hospitality management. She relocated to Marrakech in order to increase her chances of employment and now works in a riad — a traditional Moroccan home that is a popular accommodation choice for tourists — and runs her own business offering cooking classes. “Marrakech is well-known for the tourism industry, so for me, it is the best option for my business,” she said.

She’s not alone in thinking so. In Marrakech’s main square, Jemaa el-Fnaa, dozens of young men work at stalls catering to the 2 million tourists who visited the city in 2017.

But Hanafi said that many young people in Morocco look to other countries to gain international experience, education, money, or a more secure life.

“The situation for young [Moroccan] people is pretty bleak in terms of access to opportunity and this has been the case for quite some time now,” explained Camille Le Coz, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute Europe.

Cultural or educational exchanges and training could be one way to remedy that. Oussama Elbaroudi, a communication support officer at the International Organization for Migration, stressed the aim should not be to deter migration but to open opportunities for safe and orderly migration, and reduce the need to resort to dangerous channels.

Circular migration — the movement of migrants between home and host areas usually for the purpose of employment — and cultural exchanges can support development in origin countries, as well as benefiting receiving communities if managed properly, he explained.

Spain and Morocco have embraced the education strategy. After Spanish Secretary of State for Migration Consuelo Rumi visited Morocco last October, the government reportedly asked for specific aid in the form of training programs, postgraduate courses, and Erasmus-style exchanges.

A pilot project offering approximately 100 postgraduate scholarships in Spain for Moroccan students — which incorporates an element of reintegration and aims to boost economic and social progress — has since been funded by the European Union.

Projects addressing education and employment capacity in Morocco have also been implemented with investment from the Moroccan government and donors. For example, the Kafaat Liljamia project — funded by the EU and implemented by the British Council and the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation for Development — supports the training, professional integration, social inclusion, and self-employment of young Moroccan people in vulnerable situations.

The French development agency, EU, and German aid agency GIZ are also supporting the establishment of a vocational training system in the Moroccan renewable energy and energy efficiency sector.

Can it work?

There is a key problem with increasing education opportunities however: Research shows that employment in Morocco drops with increased education — 4.7% of labor force participants with no formal education are unemployed compared to 23% of university graduates.

The U.S. Agency for International Development puts this partially down to an inability among graduates to effectively communicate their skills to potential employers and to find jobs that match their education level, added to slow growth in employment outside the agriculture sector.

Training or education — whether in Morocco or Spain — without adequate follow-up employment may not reduce the number of young people looking for overseas opportunities. “Once they graduate, if there are no opportunities in Morocco, they may even be more tempted to leave,” Le Coz said. She added that the international community should properly consider whether increased investment in education could curb migration.

USAID’s “Career Center” program has been running for five years in the Moroccan cities of Casablanca, Marrakech, and Tangier and is tackling the problem by helping young people transition from education to employment. They provide youth with a better understanding of employment trends, demand for skills, and opportunities to connect with the private sector.

"It helps students develop skills that improves their marketability and access to employment in Morocco,” said Jennifer Nikolaeff, who works on democracy and governance for USAID. The program’s relationships with the private sector and universities are among the reasons for its success, she said, adding that the Morocco Ministry of Education has committed to continuing and expanding the program nationwide.

While a mixture of increased access to education and career support could mean that young people feel less compelled to look overseas for opportunities, Le Coz warned that, on their own, temporary courses and exchanges in Spain aren’t enough of a solution and that often these types of projects only help a small number of people.

Hanafi also echoed this. “There are study exchanges in Moroccan universities, but they offer them only to the first and brave students,” she said.

There’s also the risk that people participating in exchange programs would prefer to stay in host countries after the experience is officially over, instead of taking their education and international experience back to Morocco. Such projects are often designed to prepare students for return and ensure support for reintegration and finding a job.

But “a lot of these projects are built on this myth that everybody is going to return at the end when that’s not the case,” Le Coz said, adding that research shows higher education levels actually lead to more legal migration.

The EU’s efforts to address the challenge of migration may not lead to a decrease in departures, she warned.

About the author

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    Rebecca Root

    Rebecca Root is an Editorial Associate and Reporter at Devex. She has a background in journalism and communications, and has written for a variety of publications while living and working in New York and London. She is now based in Barcelona and produces multimedia editorial content for digital content series and media partnerships.