Morocco began deporting Africans who had tried to use the north African nation as a gateway to Europe, starting Monday with a flight carrying 140 Senegalese.
Morocco has come under fire for its handling of a series of recent attempts by Africans to rush the fences at Melilla, a Spanish enclave in Morocco. Some Africans have died in the attempts at Melilla.
A Royal Air Maroc flight took off from Oujda, in northeast Morocco, and was headed for Dakar, the Senegalese capital. Moroccan police were also aboard the flight. The Senegalese were not handcuffed. Some had light injuries, including cuts on their arms.
Another flight carrying 140 Senegalese was expected to leave later Monday. Moroccan authorities also hoped to send 600 Malians to Bamako, Mali on Tuesday.
"We are happy to be going home, because here there are many problems," said one of the Senegalese before he and the others calmly boarded the flight.
He gave his name as Abdoulaye, said he was 26 and that he had managed to make his way three times to Spain, but was sent back each time. He said his last attempt was at Melilla.
Mohammed Ibrahimi, a top government official for the Oujda region, said the crisis requires an international response.
"The problem of sub-Saharan immigration surpasses Morocco," he said. "What is happening today should worry the international community, starting with the European Union. This is a universal problem, a phenomenon that will grow."
In neighboring Algeria, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the official APS news agency Sunday that though police action is needed to curb illegal immigration, it was "insufficient in such a sensitive and complex situation."
International cooperation to find solutions for "countries of origins, countries of transit and countries taking in" immigrants is needed, Algeria said. It noted that nearly 6,000 illegal immigrants were caught on Algerian territory in 2004.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Monday the international community must do more to help solve problems linked to migration
"What is important is that we don't make a futile attempt to prevent people from crossing borders. The moving of people will continue," Annan told reporters in Geneva in response to questions about the situation in the Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta.
Aside from in 2003, when they repatriated around 1,000 Nigerians, Moroccan authorities had in the past dropped off illegal immigrants at the country's desert border with Algeria, a practice that provoked criticism from humanitarian groups.