Morocco a transit point for African immigrants
CASABLANCA - The closest African country to Europe, Morocco is a favourite jump off point for migrants and refugees from sub-Saharan Africa trying to reach the EU.
With the number of migrants and refugees in Morocco quadrupling, Moroccan King Mohammed VI called in 2013 for the government to address their status. Since then, Morocco has “regularised” the status of nearly 20,000 migrants, granting residency permits and setting up programmes to integrate them into society, which is struggling to embrace this new phenomenon.
Abu Bakar Ba from Guinea-Conakry works in the port city of Mohammedia for a company selling building materials. He is one of the migrants who has had his status regularised.
“I came to Morocco in September 2012 as an illegal migrant. I got married last year to a Moroccan and am studying computer science in order to get a diploma to allow me to get permanent residence,” said Ba.
A number of local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have started programmes to facilitate the integration of African and Middle Eastern migrants and refugees into Moroccan society.
Singa Maroc is a local NGO that works on the socio-economic integration of those who received refugee status through improving their skills to allow them to participate in the country’s economic and social development, according to its founder and director Majda Khamlichi.
“We have two long-term projects designed to help African refugees. The first project is to teach them the Moroccan dialect darija because language is a catalyst to their integration. The second consists of helping some refugees achieve their dream project,” Khamlichi told The Arab Weekly.
Singa Maroc is in the midst of a crowdfunding campaign set up by a Moroccan financing platform to help an Ivorian refugee open a shop specialising in African food products in Rabat’s Takhfid Reda neighbourhood.
“We are trying to collect 600 euros [$660] for Abouben Sanogo, who has been in Morocco for ten years, to allow him to achieve his dream,” said Khamlichi.
But the Singa Maroc director cited an experience that highlighted the feeling of insecurity for some African migrants in the North African kingdom.
“Before kick-starting our programmes, when we first tried to meet some African refugees one evening last November, they turned down our call,” she said. “They told me that taxis charge them double the fare because of the colour of their skin and that they are scared of leaving their homes at night.”
Khamlichi said Singa Maroc is working with the refugees who have been in Morocco for at least five years but their situations have not improved. These refugees utterly depend on the United Nations of High Commissioner for Refugees, which gives them monthly vouchers of 100 dirhams [$10].
“We both know that nobody can survive on a 100-dirham allowance,” she stressed.
There are many illegal sub-Saharan migrants who live in the north of the country, trying to fulfil their dream of crossing to Spain despite tighter border controls in the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.
Morocco is the closest African country to mainland Europe, separated by the Strait of Gibraltar and just 15 kilometres from Spain at its narrowest point, while Ceuta and Melilla have the European Union’s only land borders with Africa. This is why migration has been one of the thorniest issues in relations between Morocco and the European Union.
Spanish authorities in Ceuta and Melilla have been under pressure to foil regular attempts by Africans to reach European soil. Madrid has sought more help from the European Union to deal with this flow, which has swelled in recent months.
Other migrants try to sail across the strait from Morocco to Spain in makeshift boats and dinghies or to smuggle themselves into the country hidden in vehicles.
Some of those who fail to make it to Europe try to start a new life in northern Morocco while waiting to try again to cross the Mediterranean. The killing of a Senegalese migrant in Tangier last summer though is the proof that Moroccans are far from tolerating African migrants.
Last August, tensions between Moroccans and African migrants reached new highs after the death of 25-year old Charles Ndour in Tangier’s suburb of Boukhalef, overshadowing the government’s progress in its migration policy.
The death of Ndour, who was a legal migrant, sparked clashes between the two communities, which have been blaming each other for the deteriorating situation.
Up to 1,000 migrants are believed to live in Boukhalef waiting for a chance to reach Europe.
The Boukhalef experience is evidence that dealing with migrants is more than just regularising their status. Moroccan society is now required to implement an entirely new set of social, legal and economic issues typical for immigration countries.
“There is racism among Moroccans towards African migrants because of their skin colour. However, Moroccans deal differently with Arab migrants, such as Syrians, because they sympathise with their plight,” said Khamlichi.