Morocco neared the end of a massive deportation operation on Friday, shipping 102 Africans to Mali on a special flight and clearing out a main holding center where 1,574 illegal immigrants had been rounded up. Friday's was the 11th special flight out of Oujda, on the border with Algeria, this week.
"We are glad to be going back because we are tired," said Issouf Diarra, a 20-year-old Malian, before boarding the plane home. "I came here four months ago and didn't find a solution. I will try to find another way to get to Europe."
Many of the immigrants had tried in vain to reach the Spanish enclave of Melilla in northern Morocco but were pushed back from the barbed wire fence. An Interior Ministry official, Ahmed Faouzi, said the government has spent Ђ70 million (US$84 million) on looking after the clandestine immigrants once they were rounded up and shipping them home, according to the AP.
Faouzi, who oversaw the deportation flights here, said that a total of 827 Senegalese and 747 Malians were flown home from Oujda. Other illegal immigrants were expected to be flown out of Morocco from a southern city, he said, adding that he did not know how many were involved or when they would leave. He did not name the point of exit.
There had been reports of Africans rounded up in military camps in the Western Sahara territory, to be bused to Mauritania. However, Mauritania refused entry to the immigrants.
Morocco has long grappled with the problem of Africans using the North African kingdom as a step toward Europe. Many end up staying here for months or even years. The massive deportation called world attention to the situation.