Morocco expels Amnesty staffers over 'unauthorised study'

Amnesty International's Europe and Central Asia director John Dalhuisen speaks at a press conference in Moscow on May 23, 2012 (AFP Photo/Natalia Kolesnikova)

Rabat (AFP) - Morocco has expelled two foreigners working for rights group Amnesty International after they carried out an unauthorised study on migrants and asylum seekers, the interior ministry said Thursday.

The London-based group confirmed that the two, both staffers, were expelled in what it called a "blatant attempt to prevent legitimate human rights research and muzzle criticism in the country".

An interior ministry statement said the two foreigners, whom it did not identify, had been deported after they had carried out the study "without having previously obtained authorisation from the competent authorities".

Amnesty identified them as John Dalhuisen, the director for Europe and Central Asia, and Irem Arf, a refugee and migrant rights researcher.

It said they had been questioned by police and then put on separate flights to London and Paris.

"Morocco's lofty words about being an open country have been exposed as hollow by their actions today," said Anna Neistat, Amnesty's senior director for research.

"The decision to expel our staff from Morocco as they began their investigations into the human rights situation of migrants and refugees raises serious suspicions that the authorities have something to hide."

The Moroccan ministry said Rabat had asked Amnesty to delay conducting the study until there was agreement on it.

But Amnesty said it had received "written and verbal assurances... that the organisation could visit the country without being required to obtain prior authorisation."

It said the pair had arrived Monday for a fact-finding visit to investigate the situation of migrants and refugees at Morocco's northern borders with Spain.

The group said relations with Morocco deteriorated markedly after the launch of its Stop Torture Campaign in 2014 which detailed Morocco's use of torture.

Rabat has said the necessary "honesty and objectivity" of a report published by the group were "lacking".

Amnesty said that "rather than expelling us, Moroccan authorities should show they have nothing to hide by granting human rights researchers unfettered access to those most vulnerable to abuse."