Over the past decade, new gateway countries have emerged as pass-throughs for migrants seeking to relocate to Europe and the United States. As the frequency and magnitude of refugee and migration flows have increased, Europe and the U.S. have started paying closer attention to the migration policies of these gateway countries. Ensuring that they are adequately supported and funded is critical to protecting humanitarian pathways and managing migrant flows into their own countries. Yet, all this funding has yet to solve the multiple reported humanitarian and human welfare problems plaguing these systems.


Sub-Saharan African migrants have used Morocco as a transit country to Europe for many decades because of its geographical proximity. The EU has invested significant financial resources and attention to migration by way of Morocco. In late 2019, the EU announced it would send over 100 million Euros to Morocco as part of the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa to help “manage irregular migration;” a paltry amount compared to the 3.5 billion Euros the EU pledged to Morocco for migration cooperation and enforcement from 2020 to 2027. 

Despite the influx of funding, Morocco struggles to treat migrants humanely, safely, or efficiently. Many of these difficulties can be traced back to Morocco’s migration laws. In November 2003, Morocco passed Law no. 02-03, which informs most immigration detention directives. It provides guidelines for when and how Moroccan authorities can legally detain migrants. According to the law, foreign nationals who enter Morocco without permission are only allowed to be detained for 24 to 96 hours without a court order. With a court order, migrants can be detained for 25 days. However, Moroccan authorities often disregard these guidelines, leading to reports of migrants being held in detention for several months.

What’s more, there are no official immigration detention centers, even though they are required under Moroccan law. Instead, migrants are detained in arbitrary locations, like prisons, police stations, airports, schools, children’s homes, and homeless shelters. Due to the ad hoc nature of migrant detention, it has been difficult to document how many migrants are being held and where. At least 22 facilities have held migrants, yet there is no publicly available data on how many migrants are in detention. 

The conditions in these makeshift facilities are reportedly extremely poor. In 2020, around 50 migrants were reported to have been detained in a school in Laâyounne, Western Sahara, without sufficient water, food, and clean clothes and no access to outdoor facilities. And many are reportedly being held without charges or due process.

Another significant concern is the arbitrary and often violent nature of immigrant enforcement. In 2018, Amnesty International documented mass raids in northern Morocco. Thousands of sub-Saharan African migrants were rounded up, detained, and subsequently deported and abandoned in the south of the country near the Algerian border. Many of these people were asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants with Moroccan residency cards. In other raids, migrants have reported Moroccan officials breaking into their homes in the middle of the night to arrest them for alleged immigration violations. 


Given Turkey’s geographic location as the gateway to Europe from the Middle East, it has become a major migrant transit and destination country. The refugee crises in Syria and Afghanistan have exacerbated the flows. The EU has partnered with Turkey to provide financial support in recent years. For example, in 2016, the EU-Turkey deal was signed that provided 6 billion Euros to Turkey in exchange for allowing unauthorized refugees apprehended in the Greek islands to be returned to Turkey. 

In April 2013, Turkey passed Law no. 6458, which established the current migration detention framework. In 2017, in response to Turkey’s attempts to join the EU, Turkey amended their migrant detention laws to provide for more strict procedures and meet EU and international detention standards.

Law no. 6458 states that migrants can only be detained for one year and limits detention to migrants deemed a public threat, use fraudulent documents, or are at risk of absconding. However, reports have emerged that Turkish officials have been detaining migrants arbitrarily. In 2015, Amnesty International reported Turkey arbitrarily detained dozens of refugees and asylum seekers who attempted to enter the EU and housed them in facilities located in the south and east of the country without providing any reason for their detention and subjected them to ill-treatment. 

Turkey has dedicated migrant detention centers called “removal centers.” There are 25 of these centers spread across the country with a reported capacity of nearly 16,000 in total. Migrants are moved to these locations after spending 48 hours in short-term holding centers like police stations. Other migrant detention centers are in airports, juvenile detention centers, sports arenas, and military posts. No public information is available regarding the number of individuals in migrant detention. 

Conditions at short-term holding centers are reported to be worse than removal centers; men and women are housed together in “substandard hygienic conditions.” Additionally, overcrowding is a serious concern. As individuals are often segregated based on nationality, if there is an overrepresentation of a single nationality, sections of the center become overcrowded quickly. 


Mexico’s geographic location makes its migration policies and programs of great interest to the U.S. Since 2015, the U.S. has sent almost $60 million to Mexico through the Mérida Initiative to reinforce its border control and immigration enforcement efforts. The U.S. often uses its financial and economic influence to make Mexico a more willing immigration enforcement partner. For example, in 2019, the Trump administration threatened to place tariffs on Mexican exports if the country did not work toward reducing migrant flows into the U.S. 

Multiple laws govern Mexico’s migrant detention procedures, namely, the 2011 Migration Law and 2012 Regulations of the Migration Law. The Mexican Constitution also provides some direction on migrant detention, but mainly focuses on migrants’ rights within Mexico, like making arbitrary detention illegal.

Experts have argued that “euphemisms” throughout Mexico’s migration laws make them difficult to interpret. Article 99 of the Migration Law, which outlines migrant detention, does not explicitly use the word “detention.” Instead it uses the term “presentation.” The vague terminology allows Mexican authorities to interpret the law as they see fit and provides little consistency.  

The Migration Law states migrants can only be detained for 15 working days, though this can be extended to 60 days under certain circumstances, such as difficulty obtaining travel documents. Yet the reasons for migrant detention are often unclear because the law makes it seem like anyone with an ambiguous immigration status is eligible for detention. The Migration Law also lists multiple reasons why a person may be deported from Mexico, including illegal entry, being a threat to national security, and re-entering the country after being deported.    

Mexico uses provisional detention centers for short- and medium-term detention and migratory stations for long-term detention. A 2019 Mexican government report stated the country had 30 migratory stations and 23 provisional detention centers. 

There are two types of provisional detention centers: Type A holds migrants for a maximum of 48 hours and Type B for up to seven days. Thanks to the country’s location as the gateway for Central American migrants attempting to enter the U.S., Mexico has become home to one of the largest migrant detention systems in the world. In 2019, the country detained 182,940 migrants, and by 2021, the number rose to 307,679 — 75,592 of which were children.

Conditions in these detention facilities are substandard, with reports of violence and excessive force used against migrants, coupled with a lack of access to legal assistance and due process. There have also been concerns regarding overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions. In 2019, for example, the provisional detention center in San Cristóbal de las Casas was reportedly  overcrowded with unsanitary cells and migrants suffering from multiple illnesses, like lice and flu.     

In recent years, all three countries have become new players in international migration, respectively serving as gateways to either Europe or the U.S. Because of this, Europe and the U.S. have paid special attention to how migration policies, like detention, are being implemented. Their policies tend to be substandard and arbitrary and are used as “offensive” foreign policy tools, seen when Morocco and Turkey, in times of disagreement with the EU, allow migrants to cross the borders unopposed. These actions often lead to mass confusion in Europe and subsequent substantial monetary investment into the two countries amounting to billions of Euros. As long as migrants seek refuge in Europe and the U.S. and their numbers remain high, these migrant detention policies are unlikely to change, and may well become far worse.

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