Police intercept boat with 11 North African migrants near Olhão

Moroccan migrants trafficked through Portugal “could be recruits for European gangs”

A ‘highly placed’ security source has warned that the recent influx of Moroccan ‘boat people’, arriving on Portugal’s shores could be recruits for violent European gangs.

Talking to Diário de Notícias the source is described as “not currently connected” to investigations into the  ‘new route’ that has appeared from Morocco’s seaport town of El Jadida to the Algarve – but as stressing that the possibility of Moroccan mafia involvement needs to be probed.

He claims the profile of the young men arriving since last December fits that of the ideal recruits for Moroccan gangs operating in Holland and Belgium particularly: young, fit, single men ready for violence.

This latter characteristic has been displayed on various occasions since Moroccan migrants started arriving in rickety fishing boats.

Held by the authorities pending expulsion, these young men have gone on rampages, destroyed property and taken the opportunity to escape whenever it arises (click here, here and here).

Indeed, DN has been unable to establish just how many of the 97 or so youths are still ‘accounted for’: the system in Portugal for dealing with them has been so hidebound by rules and regulations, that most have ‘slipped away’ as Morocco itself has shown no enthusiasm to accept them back. Add to that the numbers that have ‘escaped’, and there are undoubtedly very few left.

Says the paper: “At least 30 have been released because they reached the maximum time they can be held by law”.

There are still 11 – from the group that arrived in June – held in preventive custody in Custoias jail, charged with various crimes, including qualified damage, kidnap and threats and coercion of public officials.

But as DN explains, the most Portuguese Law can do is hold these undocumented migrants for 90 days. After that, unless they have broken the law (like those held in jail) they are freed and able easily to ‘disappear’.

The last group that arrived in September, for example, can only be held until December. Most of them are being in a barracks in Tavira and “desperate with the situation”, according to local Bloco de Esquerda MP João Vasconcelos. They are effectively imprisoned.

In João Vasconcelos’ mindset “it is not admissible that the Portuguese State treats migrants in a situation of great fragility like prisoners”.

But then, it’s still unclear what these young men’s intentions are. 

Even Vasconcelos admits that they “have not wanted to explain why they have no documents, nor from which area they left. 

“Very few speak French. They just say they want to work and join family members and communities in Europe”.

And this could be the red flag: “in recent years Moroccan mafia-related activity in the European Union has contributed to an escalation of violence that has placed it on the list of combat priorities, both from countries with larger (Moroccan) communities, and from Europol itself,” explains DN.

“These gangs dedicate themselves on a large-scale to so-called itinerant crime”; a type of organisation that Europol sees as focused on “theft of cars, house and shop robberies, the theft of wallets and attacks on ATMs”, adds the paper.

DN’s report into what may be behind the ‘new route’ identified from El Jadida to the Algarve came up against a lot of ‘zero responses’ from various authorities approached for comments, particularly SEF borders agency which has refused to reveal how many young men are still in Portuguese hands – but it coincided with news that a boat that set out from the Moroccan port last weekend capsized, leading to a number of drownings (at least one victim was identified as female).

Says the paper: “The fact that the origin of these migrants was the same as those that have managed to arrive in Portugal over the last few months rang alarm bells in Lisbon among the team that is accompanying the current investigation” into who exactly is running this new trafficking route.

“Contacts with the Moroccan authorities are being made to (try and) find out if Portugal was the destination of these (latest) migrants”, DN confirms.

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