RABAT (Reuters) - Morocco's king has agreed with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on repatriating illegal migrants to Morocco, the palace said, a move that follows sexual attacks on women in the German city of Cologne blamed mainly on North African men.
Germany wants to limit migration from North Africa by declaring Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia "safe countries", which would end their citizens' chance of being granted asylum.
The initiative follows outrage over attacks on women in Cologne on New Year's Eve blamed predominantly on North African migrants that sharpened a national debate about the open-door refugee policy adopted by Merkel.
"Officials in both countries will immediately step up talks in order to prepare and study the cases of those (Moroccans) irregularly staying in the country (Germany) and repatriate them without delay to Morocco," the palace statement, carried by the state news agency MAP, said late on Wednesday.
"The recent flows of illegal migrants, some of them falsely claiming to be refugees, were the result of a humanitarian call ... which was widely exploited by human trafficking organizations operating on both sides of the Mediterranean."
The German interior minister will shortly hold talks with his Moroccan counterpart, the statement added.
Germany, Europe's most populous country and its largest economy, has borne the brunt of the continent's biggest refugee influx since World War Two. Some 1.1 million asylum seekers arrived in Germany in 2015, most of them fleeing war and poverty in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel has said Berlin could cut development aid to countries that are not willing to take back citizens whose asylum applications have been rejected.
Around 4.5 million Moroccans live abroad, most of them in Europe, and their annual remittances total about $6 billion.
Reporting By Aziz El Yaakoubi; editing by Patrick Markey and Gareth Jones