Why authorities accept only limited international help

Almost as soon as news broke of Friday’s earthquake in Morocco, offers of help from around the world came in. But the country has so far been selective in what it has chosen to accept.

A statement on Sunday from the interior ministry said Morocco had “responded in this particular phase to offers of support from the friendly nations: Spain, Qatar, the UK and the United Arab Emirates”.

Spain has sent a search-and-rescue unit with sniffer dogs and the UK has deployed a similar team, but there have been questions over why Morocco has been slow to accept other offers.

French help is on standby but the head of one rescue charity, Secouristes sans Frontieres, said his aid workers had not been given the go-ahead from the Moroccan government, the AFP news agency reports.

Algeria, which cut diplomatic ties with its North African neighbour two years ago, said it could send 80 specialised rescue workers from its civil protection force.

There have also been offers from the US, Tunisia, Turkey and Taiwan among others.

But the decision over what assistance to welcome has got caught up in questions of sovereignty and geopolitics.

There are strained relations between France and Morocco, for instance, partly as a result of moves by French President Emmanuel Macron to get closer to Algeria.

But the French authorities have tried to play down any idea that they had been snubbed.

“This is a misplaced controversy,” Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna is quoted by the Reuters news agency as saying.

“We are ready to help Morocco. It’s a sovereign Moroccan decision and it’s up to them to decide,” she said.

Morocco says it wants to maintain control and does not want to risk a potentially chaotic situation with dozens of countries and organisations coming in to help.

“A lack of co-ordination in such cases would be counterproductive,” authorities there have said.

But government critic and activist Maati Mounjib has said it is the wrong response when help is desperately needed, especially in more remote areas.

“I think it is really an error [to insist on] sovereignty and national pride. This is not the moment to refuse because the aid is essential, even developed countries accept outside help [in disasters],” he told the BBC’s Newsday programme.

Hossam Elsharkawi, the Regional Director for Middle East and North Africa for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), was reluctant to criticise the Moroccan authorities at such a difficult time but argued that more outside help would inevitably be required.

The organisation is giving money to the local Red Crescent branch, but the IFRC also has specialist teams on standby, ready to go into the country.

“We have experience of 30 years in these types of scenarios, we know the playbook – they will need international assistance.

“The local response has done a fantastic job to date but they are exhausted on the third day and they will need that additional help,” Mr Elsharkawi said.

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