Borders in the Maghreb are increasingly dangerous. Armed with tools designed for the pre–Arab Spring environment, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia face a complex new world of transnational actors that leverage borders for profit and for sanctuary. Rather than protecting states, a Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) official noted, the borders themselves are now the “challenge and threat.” Radical change is needed in national and regional approaches to border security to combat today’s threats. Going it alone is no longer an option in North Africa.
Vast, lightly populated spaces, adversarial states, and closed borders define the twenty-first century Maghreb. Illicit trade is booming. Smuggling poses a pernicious economic and taxation challenge to the Maghreb countries but does not directly threaten their stability. However, the high levels of smuggling do indicate significant gaps in the border security architecture.
The Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) was designed to deepen cooperation among the Maghreb states, buttress the region’s economy through greater interregional trade, enable the free movement of people, and lay the groundwork for future political integration. King Hassan II of Morocco proclaimed that the ultimate goal of the union was to “turn the Arab Maghreb into one country, with one passport, one identity and a single currency.” However, the promise of an integrated Maghreb has not materialized, though the union still exists.
The region is also a main thoroughfare for the West African human trafficking and migration route to Southern Europe, with access to Spanish soil and the EU border in the North African enclaves of Melilla and Cueta, just a short journey from mainland Europe across the Meditteranean, whilst smuggling of arms and illegal goods across North Africa also adds pressure on the governments and border security forces of the region.