The dream of migrating to Europe has become more and more appealing to the youth of Maghreb countries after the coronavirus pandemic and the economic devastation it wrought had deepened their despair.
This has led to a spike in Mediterranean crossings to Europe and caused EU countries to step up pressure on Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia to stop the illegal journeys.
The fight against such migration is at the heart of EU diplomatic efforts in the Maghreb region, including a trip to Morocco on Thursday by French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin.
It was also the hot-button issue in Algeria during recent visits by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Italian Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese.
Italy has also toughened its rhetoric with Tunisia, where the level of clandestine departures this summer reached an unprecedented level.
The trend is fueled by widespread disillusionment with governments and economic prospects there, said Ivan Martin, a Spanish researcher specializing in migration.
"The number one factor in departures from Morocco is the deterioration of the economic situation," he said.
"In Algeria it is despair linked to the failure of political change, and in Tunisia disillusionment with the lack of political and economic prospects."
An independent study recently published in Dubai showed that almost half of the Arab world's youth are considering immigration (about 47% in North Africa).
One third of nearly half of Arab youth are more likely to emigrate due to Covid-19.
"Nearly half of 200 million young Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa region have considered leaving their country, frustrated with struggling economies and widespread government corruption," said the latest annual Arab Youth Survey released this month by the consultancy ASDAA BCW.
Moroccan anthropologist Chakib Guessous, whose country faces recession this year with a six percent GDP contraction, said that “every time there is a crisis, it pushes young people to leave.”
Months of lockdown have driven Morocco's most vulnerable deeper into poverty and hardened the desire of many, including the highly qualified, to leave their home country, he told AFP.
In Tunisia too, said Romdhane Ben Amor of the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, "among those leaving, there are more and more graduates, people who are not unemployed but who have a precarious job".
In Algeria, where the government has sealed the borders because of Covid-19, many young people have been disheartened because hopes for political reform have fizzled.
In September, more than 1,200 illegal immigrants were intercepted off the Algerian coast within just 10 days.