The Moroccan Interior Ministry said in a statement Sunday that it would initially accept search-and-rescue teams only from Britain, Qatar, Spain and the United Arab Emirates — which it called “friendly countries” — after taking into account the “needs of the field.”
But Morocco also appeared slow to take up offers of broader humanitarian and technical assistance. Washington “reached out immediately to the Moroccan government to offer any assistance that we can provide,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday on CNN. “We await word from the Moroccan government to find out how we can help, where we can help,” Blinken said.
The U.S. Agency for International Development did not immediately respond to a request on Monday on whether it had yet mobilized any teams or assistance.
The United Nations has brought in experts to Morocco but is “on standby waiting for a request for assistance,” said Farhan Haq, deputy spokesperson for the U.N. secretary general. Whereas the U.N. has coordinated efforts on the ground in past disasters, the Moroccan government is “trying itself to mobilize aid,” he told CNN on Monday. He said he expected more bilateral agreements in the coming days.
In France, which ruled over Morocco as a colonial power from 1912 to 1956, the lack of uptake of support was greeted with surprise and sparked speculation that a cooling in relations between Paris and Rabat over immigration and other issues had played a role.
French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said that some 60 other countries, including France, had offered assistance, but stressed that she believed controversy was being overblown.
Morocco had not “refused” France’s help, she told French channel BFM TV. France will give $5.4 million to French and international nonprofits working on the ground in Morocco and stands ready to support Morocco further, she said.
Simon Martin, the British ambassador to Morocco, said 60 U.K. search-and-rescue experts and four search dogs had arrived in the country to support Moroccan-led operations. The Spanish urban search-and-rescue team said it was receiving and coordinating international teams.
Countries including Tunisia and Saudi Arabia have said they are sending aid, though it is not clear if any has been dispatched. Other nongovernmental organizations said they had already mobilized.
Meanwhile, a 50-person team from Germany’s Technical Relief Agency assembled at Cologne Bonn Airport over the weekend was sent home from the airport on Sunday after their offer for help was not taken up.
The rapid deployment unit was “ready within a short time to use their technical expertise to provide humanitarian aid in Morocco,” the agency’s president, Sabine Lackner, said in a news release. The agency deployed a 50-person team to Turkey and Syria for four months after the devastating quake there at the beginning of this year. It is now “checking whether and how the country can be helped with the delivery of relief supplies.”
Addressing journalists on Monday, German Foreign Ministry spokesman Sebastian Fischer said there was no indication that the decision on aid by Morocco was “political.”
“The Moroccan side thanked us for the offer of help,” he said, adding that in emergencies, “you also have to ensure coordination.”
But others expressed surprise that assistance was being turned down.
“It is incomprehensible why this help is not requested,” tweeted Carl-Julius Cronenberg, a member of parliament for Germany’s Free Democrats. “It shouldn’t be about misunderstood national pride, but only about the fastest and best possible help!”
Even if relief officials wanted to accept foreign assistance, permission would require approval from the very top, and any such request could easily become mired in a bureaucratic chain of command, said Samia Errazzouki, an expert in Moroccan history and governance at Stanford University. “It’s heavily centralized and controlled, so that means nothing can happen until approval comes from the person who is higher up.”
Reluctance to allow a broad range of aid could stem from a reluctance to permit scrutiny or lose control of the narrative about the conditions in communities hit by the quake, amid a potential public relations nightmare. An influx of foreign aid workers could be “a source of anxiety for the Moroccan state, as perhaps it would shed light on issues that many of us have been trying to signal [are] not tenable, and lives are at stake.”
Miriam Berger, Sarah Dadouch and Missy Ryan in Washington and Kate Brady in Berlin contributed to this report.