The Migration Route Morocco-Algarve: Chronology

Mariana Baptista/ June 22, 2021/

Mariana Baptista [1]

Abstract: Since December 2019, seven boats have departed from Morocco and landed in Algarve (Portugal). As a result, the migrants’ arrival has been active on the political agenda. This chronology aims to provide a complete and informative overview of the matter through a description of all the relevant events that have occurred from December 2019 to March 2021.

Keywords: Migration Route; Morocco; Algarve

December 2019

December 11

  • After being warned by local fishermen, the Maritime Police detects eight Moroccan youngsters, between 16 and 20 years of age, at Monte Gordo beach, in Vila Real de Santo António (Algarve) [2].
  • Other four youngsters, who also came in the small boat, escape before the arrival of the authorities, never being captured [3].

December 16-20

  • The Security Information Service (Serviço de Informações de Segurança, SIS) sends a report to the Government and to the security forces and services, safeguarding that Portugal will hardly become a target of massive maritime migration, as it is the case of Spain, Italy, and Greece. However, states that, although always secondary, a scenery of transference of these migration routes should not be dismissed. SIS also says the reception provided to these migrants could be a factor of attraction for the criminal networks of illegal migration that function in that region of the North of Africa [4].

January 2020

January 29

  • The second group of migrants arrives at Armona Island, in Olhão (Algarve). There were 11 Moroccan men, between 21 to 30 years old [5].

June 2020

June 6

  • A boat with seven Moroccan migrants arrives in Olhão (Algarve) [6].

June 12

  • The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Augusto Santos Silva, affirms ‘I believe we cannot talk about a route yet. […] We have a record […], in the last six months, of 46 people, around that, who arrived in Algarve in small insecure boats, and, therefore, that is not a dimension that should make us talk about routes’. He also clarifies irregular migrations ‘cannot be favoured or encouraged’ and that ‘the most powerful means of combating networks of traffics and mafias’ is by creating ‘agreements on labour migration’, which Portugal is negotiating ‘with various countries, including Morocco.‘We have already proposed to Morocco a text of the agreement on labour migration, which Morocco is analysing’, he specifies[7].

June 15

  • A small boat with 22 Moroccan men is intercepted, at dawn, when the crew members were preparing to land in Vale do Lobo beach (Algarve) [8].

June 16

  • The Minister of Internal Administration says ‘I do not dramatize what I see being widely discussed, we should not be ridiculous, we should anticipate and have rigour in the investigation’. ‘As we are talking about four landings since December, of 48 people, we should have some awareness of the ridiculous when comparing with what are 7500 landings in Spain since January, even with a significant reduction of landings verified this year’. He adds that Portugal continues in contact with Morocco, to evaluate eventual irregular migration flows that might hit the Portuguese territory [9].

June 30

  • SIS, in its threat analysis for the Annual Internal Security Report (Relatório Anual de Segurança Interna, RASI), about 2019, highlights that ‘Portugal continues to serve as a subsidiary point of access to the European space, being expected a rise of the illegal migration, with direct reflexes in our country’. It also writes that ‘it is seen as especially concerning for the internal security the rise of the registered migration flows in the route of the Occidental Mediterranean when compared to previous years’ [10].

July 2020

July 21

  • A small boat, intercepted by the National Republican Guard (Guarda Nacional Republicana, GNR), arrives at Farol Island, in Faro (Algarve), containing 21 Moroccan migrants, needing medical assistance [11].

July 22

  • The Minister of Foreign Affairs states that legal migration ‘is the real alternative to irregular migrations and to all kinds of traffic that feeds on them and fosters them’ [12].
  • The parliamentary leader of CDS-PP, Telmo Correia, urges Eduardo Cabrita to publicly clarify the existence of a network of illegal migration acting in Algarve, considering the government covered himself ‘of ridiculous’ by having devalued that possibility. ‘It became very evident, and there are very clear signals, that it is being explored by smugglers an illegal network in the South of Portugal’, he affirms [13].

August 2020

August 5

  • The Minister of Internal Administration and his Moroccan homologous, Abdelouafi Laftit, manifest agreement on the necessity to increase cooperation between the two countries and Moroccan and the European Union, to what concerns the ‘field of prevention and combat to irregular migration and trafficking in humans’. They manifest equal agreement on the importance of concluding negotiations for a legal migration agreement between Portugal and Morocco [14].

September 2020

September 15

September 16

  • Eduardo Cabrita reminds, to what concerns the existence of an illegal route to Algarve, that this year 15,000 people have arrived in Spain, but he underlines that he does not devalue the question and highlights the prevention work that is being done. ‘We are talking about a hundred people’, he says, stressing that it is ‘positive and necessary’ for Portugal the creation of legal migration networks [16].

September 25

  • Othmane Bahnini, the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Morocco in Lisbon, says, regarding the arrivals, that ‘There had been a sole case, in 2007, of a boat with 23 Moroccans, that was going to Spain, by mistake, but in the last 13 years there never had been anything. It was with great surprise that we saw in the news that these were Moroccans, with the particularity of being from El Jadida, the old Portuguese Mazagan’. He adds that ‘It is too soon to conclude that new route is established. We do not know yet if they are all from the same region. We are talking about solely six arrivals, it is a drop in the ocean, if we compare it, for example, with Spain’.
  • He states that ‘Right after the first arrival in December, it was open immediately an investigation on-site, where it was assumed to be the origin of those people. We dismantled a cell that had been involved in the arrival of migrants to Portugal. In June, we detained three people and we aborted an operation, which involved 23 candidates to embark, among which a woman. On the past day August 10, we arrested two more people, who were preparing the boarding of another 35 migrants and, days later, we arrested three more smugglers’ [17].

October 2020

October 6

  • Diário de Notícias confirms the existence of a new illegal migration route departing from Algarve to Portugal, sustaining themselves on an investigation conducted by the Immigration and Borders Service (Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras, SEF), shared two weeks prior with GNR, the Maritime Police and the Marine. Through the analysis of the videos recorded by the migrants’ cell phones, the investigators were able to completely rebuild the route taken, which was around 700 km long. Therefore, it was said to the newspaper that ‘It is confirmed all six boats, which were able to arrive to the Portuguese coast, in Algarve, departed from the same geographical point, El Jadida, in the Atlantic coast of Morocco, and had as a destiny Portugal. It was also acknowledged the path is done directly, solely in a boat, and it is estimated it takes between 40 and 50 hours’ [18].

October 23

  • The Minister of Internal Administration forwards, for the period of the Portuguese presidency of the Council of the European Union, an eventual legal migration agreement with Morocco, to stop the illegal migration route on the coast of Algarve [19].

October 24

  • A boat sinks near to the Moroccan coast, after having departed from El Jadida. It contained 24 migrants, including children, and there were no survivors [20].

December 2020

December 18

  • The Secretary of State for Integration and Migration, Cláudia Pereira, says ‘Those who arrived are less than 100 people. I know they had a tone of mediatic visibility, but they are less than 100, which does not allow us yet to know if it is a new migratory pattern. We do not even have yet the data to understand if they wanted to come to Portugal or if they wanted to depart from Portugal and go to other countries. More than half has asked for asylum’ [21].

March 2021

March 29

  • An empty boat is found by the authorities in Santo António Beach. Hours later, three Moroccan men are arrested by the Public Security Police (Polícia de Segurança Pública, PSP) in Vila Real de Santo António (Algarve). The other 13 elements of the group are missing [22].

March 30

  • Vasco Malta, the Head of Office of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Portugal, affirms that ‘In Spain, in the year 2020, by sea alone, 40,000 people arrived. Therefore, comparatively, 113 people, spread over a period of time of one year and a half, we consider staying far from being able to acknowledge the existence of a migration route, especially with the other numbers that exist in the other European countries. Nonetheless, as the Director-General of the International Organization for Migration has said, it seems clear the existence of an assembled operation from Morocco to Portugal’ [23].

M. BAPTISTA, The Migration Route Morocco-Algarve: Chronology, NOVA Refugee Clinic Blog, June 2021, available at <>

[1] Mariana Baptista is a final year LL.B. student at NOVA School of Law and a researcher at NOVA Refugee Clinic – Legal Clinic.

[2] João Francisco Gomes, Agência Lusa and Observador, ‘Oito migrantes do norte de África detidos no Algarve após desembarcarem em Monte Gordo’ Observador (Lisbon, 11 December 2019) <> accessed 20 June 2021

[3] Diário de Notícias, ‘Quem eram e o que aconteceu aos marroquinos que chegaram ao Algarve no último ano’ Diário de Notícias (Lisbon 23 July 2020) <> accessed 20 June 2021

[4] Diário de Notícias, ‘Marroquinos. SIS admite risco de nova rota para redes criminosas’ Diário de Notícias (Lisbon, 21 December 2019) <> accessed 19 June 2021

[5] Paula Freitas Ferreira, ‘11 marroquinos chegam ilegalmente de barco a Olhão’ Diário de Notícias (Lisbon, 29 January 2020) <> accessed 20 June 2021

[6] Agência Lusa, ‘Barco com sete cidadãos marroquinos intercetado perto de Olhão’ Diário de Notícias (Lisbon, 6 June 2020) <> accessed 19 June 2021

[7] Agência Lusa, ‘Santos Silva afasta ideia de nova rota migratória para o Algarve’ Observador (Lisbon, 15 June 2020) <> accessed 18 June 2021

[8] Diário de Notícias, ‘Intercetado barco com 22 migrantes ao largo da costa algarvia’ Diário de Notícias (Lisbon, 15 June 2020) <> accessed 19 June 2021

[9] Agência Lusa and Diário de Notícias, ‘MAI diz que Portugal não deve cair no ridículo ao falar em rede de migração ilegal para o Algarve’ Diário de Notícias (Lisbon, 16 June 2020) <> accessed 19 June 2021

[10] Sistema de Segurança Interna, ‘Relatório Anual de Segurança Interna 2019’ (Sistema de Segurança Interna 2020) <> accessed 18 June 2021

[11] Público and Agência Lusa, ‘Grupo de 21 migrantes interceptados na praia da Ilha do Farol, em Faro’ Público (Lisbon, 21 July 2020) <> accessed 20 June 2021

[12] Diário de Notícias, ‘Quem eram e o que aconteceu aos marroquinos que chegaram ao Algarve no último ano’ Diário de Notícias (Lisbon, 23 July 2020) <> accessed 20 June 2021

[13] Grupo Parlamentar CDS, ‘CDS insta ministro a esclarecer publicamente existência de rede de imigração ilegal no Algarve’ (Grupo Parlamentar CDS, 22 July 2020) <> accessed 18 June 2021

[14] Agência Lusa, ‘Portugal e Marrocos de acordo sobre necessidade de reforçar combate à migração ilegal’ Observador (Lisbon, 5 August 2020) <> accessed 20 June 2021

[15] Carlos Ferro and Valentina Marcelino, ‘Mais de duas dezenas de migrantes desembarcaram no Algarve’ Diário de Notícias (Lisbon, 15 September 2020) <–12725156.html> accessed 20 June 2021

[16] Agência Lusa, ‘MAI justifica permanência de marroquinos ilegais com falta de voos regulares’ Observador (Lisbon, 16 September 2020) <> accessed 19 June 2021

[17] Valentina Marcelino, ‘“Repatriaremos todos os nossos cidadãos. Depois da Pandemia”’ Diário de Notícias (Lisbon, 26 September 2020) <> accessed 20 June 2021

[18] Diário de Notícias, SEF descobre rota de marroquinos. GNR e Marinha reforçam vigilância’ Diário de Notícias (Lisbon, 6 October 2020) <> accessed 18 June 2021

[19] Agência Lusa, ‘MAI remete acordo de migração legal com Marrocos para presidência portuguesa da União Europeia’ Observador (Lisbon, 23 October 2020) <> accessed 19 June 2021

[20] RTP, ‘Morreram afogados 24 migrantes marroquinos que tentavam chegar a Portugal’ RTP (Lisbon, 26 October 2020) <> accessed 18 June 2021

[21] Agência Lusa, ‘Chegadas de imigrantes ilegais ao Algarve não permitem falar em nova rota migratória’ Observador (Lisbon, 18 December 2020) <> accessed 18 June 2021

[22] Agência Lusa and Jornal de Notícias, ‘Grupo que desembarcou em praia no Algarve pode ter 16 pessoas’ Jornal de Notícas (Lisbon, 30 March 2021) <> accessed 20 June 2021

[23] SIC Notícias, ‘Existe operação montada de Marrocos para Portugal, garante Organização Internacional para as Migrações’ SIC Notícias (Lisbon, 30 March 2021) <> accessed 19 June 2021

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