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1.2.2009

Future Challenges

Morocco's medium-term migration potential fundamentally depends on future economic growth and the extent to which recent increases in civic liberties are sustained and real democratization occurs.

Figure 1: GDP per capita, PPP (current international $), 1980-2008, Morocco, France, Spain Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/2.0/de (bpb)

Income gaps between Morocco and European destination countries have actually increased over the past decades (see figure 1), and such sustained opportunity differentials are likely to fuel future migration. However, a combination of demographic and economic factors could potentially decrease the emigration potential of Morocco in the longer run.

After years of high population growth, future demographic developments will see some changes. The popular perception that a country like Morocco region will remain an almost infinite pool of young, unemployed migrants ready to move to Europe as soon as they are presented with the opportunity ignores the fact that Morocco has achieved spectacular reductions in fertility, which plummeted from around 7.1 in 1965 (at the onset of guestworker migration to Europe) to 2.5 by 2000.

If the current trend continues, and the Moroccan economy keeps on growing, the unique demographic "window of opportunity" offered to the next generations entering the labour market bearing an exceptionally light demographic burden may well result in a rapidly decreasing emigration potential over the coming decades. This may also make Morocco more attractive as a migration destination, which is likely to coincide with increasing immigration and settlement from sub-Saharan Africa. It seems that, in Morocco, this latter process has already been set in motion with mounting trans-Saharan (overland) immigration from Sub-Saharan countries.

However, if current reforms and economic growth are not sustained, Morocco's migration hump may be extended or transformed into a semi-permanent situation of sustained out-migration. Although this primarily depends on domestic political factors, the implementation and effects of Morocco´s association and free trade agreements with the EU will play a fundamental role too.

Figure 2: GDP per capita, PPP (current international $), 1980-2008, Morocco, Senegal, Mali Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/2.0/de (bpb)

At the same time, it would be naive to expect that the presence and settlement of sub-Saharan migrants in Morocco is a temporary phenomenon. Rather, it is likely that these communities will grow in large Moroccan cities, facilitated by reduced travel costs, the attraction of Moroccan private and public universities and vocational schools, and increased demand for low and high-skilled migrant labour. This phenomenon also exemplifies the importance of relative deprivation in explaining migration: while Moroccans themselves still wish to migrate to Europe, Morocco can be a comparatively stable and wealthy country for sub-Saharan migrants. For instance, in 2006 per capita GDP in Morocco (corrected for purchasing power parity) was 2.5 times higher than in Senegal and 3.7 times higher than in Mali (see figure 2). Large gaps between Morocco and sub-Saharan countries also exist with regard to fertility.

This might herald an era of increasing African migration to, and settlement in, Morocco, and the coexistence of immigration and emigration typical of 'transitional' countries. Interestingly, this migration transition might well restore Morocco's historical function as a bridge between sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and Europe.

Hein de Haas

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