SALE, Morocco (AP) — Morocco announced Monday that 65 percent of migrants applying for legal status were approved — about 18,000 people — in the first year of the country's new immigration policy.
At the same time, a top security official promised to destroy illegal camps housing immigrants trying to reach Europe.
With tens of thousands of illegal migrants living in Morocco — most hoping to get to Europe — Morocco's King Mohammed VI announced a new policy at the end of 2013 allowing them to apply for residency.
Some 27,000 migrants applied, according to Charki Draiss, a top official with the Interior Ministry, adding that all women and children were approved. Those rejected may appeal the decision.
Those with documents will have access to state-run health care, training and schools and will be integrated into society, he said, adding that trafficking gangs would also be targeted.
As a favored route to Europe, Morocco is caught in a bind with its northern neighbors demanding Morocco halt the flow of immigrants, while at the same time criticizing any harsh tactics for violating human rights.
Nearly every week, migrants living in rudimentary mountain camps try to enter the two Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla perched on Moroccan shores.
"The state will take all due measures to dismantle the camps in some areas, especially outside Ceuta and Melilla," Draiss said. "We will dismantle the camps in order to free the victims of human trafficking mafias."
Most migrants just want to pass through Morocco, but the deputy Foreign Minister Mbarka Bouaida told The Associated Press that the hope is the new policy will change their minds and relieve the pressures on the enclaves.
"Some have no intention of staying but there are others, up in the mountains that don't even know about the new policy and we hope to inform them," she said.
According to official statistics, the largest group, about 24 percent, that are given documents were Senegalese, while 20 percent were Syrians.
The migrants will have to renew their residency annually.