Smugglers jailed over young Moroccan migrant’s death

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Seven Moroccans and two Spaniards have been sentenced to up to ten years in prison for smuggling migrants, after a 2018 incident that led to the death of a young student.

Hayat Belkacem, a 22-year-old law student from Tetouan, was fatally shot by the Moroccan navy last September as she attempted to reach Spain in a “go-fast”, a powerful speedboat commonly used by drug traffickers.

The gunfire wounded three other Moroccans, aged between 20 and 20 years old, who were hidden with Belkacem under a tarpaulin on the boat, according to a Moroccan military source.

Belkacem’s killing sparked anger in the North African kingdom, where internet users hailed her as a “martyr” and said her only crime was attempting to leave a miserable life in Morocco to help her family.

The Spanish driver of the boat was unhurt and was arrested.

The sentence was handed down late Tuesday night by the court in Morocco’s northern city of Tetouan, a lawyer said on condition of anonymity.

He was sentenced to ten years in prison for “forming a criminal gang” and “complicity in illegal migration”.

His accomplices were given jail terms from four to six years, the lawyer told AFP.

The court did not immediately confirm the rulings.

Belkacem’s family has launched proceedings against the Moroccan state before the Rabat administrative court, the lawyer added.

Attempts by young Moroccans to reach Spain, a main gateway to Europe, have increased in recent months.

But overall, the number of clandestine migrants reaching Spain by sea has fallen to 25,000 so far this year from 55,000 in 2018, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The available data did not include nationalities.

Morocco has recently stepped up its fight against irregular migration, in coordination with European and Spanish authorities.