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A Grave Injustice in the Arab World and an Unprecedented Step to Address It

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At a time of tumult in the Arab region, a major destabilizing factor seldom discussed in the West is the massive movement of refugees across borders. The Libyan war that led to the ouster of Qadhafi saw hundreds of thousands of Libyans fleeing the country for safer, bordering states, as well as thousands of guest workers in the country fearing attacks by the rebels themselves. Amid the Syrian civil war, two million refugees and counting have sought haven in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and elsewhere -- a severe economic strain on these countries and the UN-led international bodies that serve refugees globally. Ten years after the US-led invasion of Iraq, sectarian strife in the country continues to spur waves of flight. In Egypt as well, tens of thousands of Coptic Christians have fled increased persecution, primarily by Islamists, since the 2011 revolution. Nor are war and political instability alone as drivers of migration: There is also widespread flight from poverty, disease, drought, and famine. Economic refugees hail not only from the poorest Arab countries, notably Yemen, but also from Africa below the Sahara. In the latter case, Arab countries in North Africa -- my country, Morocco in particular -- are a principal transit point: sub-Saharan Africans pass through illegally in hopes of making it to Europe in search of a better life. But they often remain in Morocco instead, further challenging our beleaguered economy and its high rate of unemployment.

This unprecedented degree of people traffic is not only a destabilizing factor for Arab states; it's also a tragedy for the migrants, many of whom suffer myriad human rights abuses in the countries to which they flee -- by employers, by police, and in spontaneous acts of street violence. No Arab country can claim to be innocent of these transgressions.

But Morocco is alone, thus far, in acknowledging the problem and taking concrete steps to rectify it: Earlier this week, King Mohammed VI received a report from the kingdom's National Human Rights Council detailing the abuses refugees to the country suffer and prescribing a radically new immigration policy. On the one hand, the recommendations reaffirm the need to enforce the law: Immigrants must be tried for criminal offenses, and the larger challenge of border control must be met by the Moroccan security sector, both acting on its own and in consort with its Arab and European neighbors. But on the other hand, the recommendations -- following the report's scathing criticism of exploitation and abuse perpetrated against migrants by state and society alike in Morocco -- call for a zero tolerance policy and new enforcement mechanisms to address the problem. The king affirmed his acceptance of the damning report, as well as the recommendations.

But are all these statements just words on a piece of paper, or do they carry weight -- and will the government really strive to implement them?

In Morocco, there is a credible basis to answer in the affirmative.

Upon assuming the throne in 1999, King Mohammed VI promised to foster human rights and the rule of law in the kingdom, and shortly thereafter began to make good on his commitment. First he announced a general amnesty amnesty for political prisoners. Then, he created an equity and reconciliation commission -- inspired in large part by South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission -- that promised to acknowledge the grievous human rights offenses under his father's rule and compensate victims of prior human rights abuse and their families. Acknowledged by international rights organizations including Amnesty International and Human Rights watch, it is to date the only commission of its kind in the Arab world. Rights activists from Lebanon to Bahrain to Iraq have expressed the hope that in their own fractured countries, the government would draw a lesson from the Moroccan model and work to establish similar commissions -- and many have come to Morocco to study the model. Hopes for healing in so many Arab countries wracked by civil war have greater prospects to be realized if the Moroccan experience is embraced.

Thanks to the king's track record, many of my fellow citizens view his embrace of the National Human Rights Council recommendations on immigration policy as grounds for optimism. Their implementation can strengthen civil peace in Morocco, and inspire its neighbors and the broader region.

Ahmed Charai is the publisher of L'Observateur du Maroc and other newspapers and the owner of Morocco's largest private radio network Med radio. As an expert on Morocco and North Africa, he sits on the Board of Directors of The Atlantic Council of United States and the Board of Trustees of the Foreign Policy Research Institute and the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. He is also member of The National Interest's Advisory Council.