Thousands of stranded Moroccans urge govt help to get home

Moroccans stranded abroad call on government to repatriate them as Rabat say their return will be subject to specific measures amid coronavirus pandemic.
Wednesday 22/04/2020
A February 2020 file picture shows a Royal Air Maroc (RAM) aircraft landing at Morocco's Benslimane airport carrying repatriated Moroccan citizens from China's Wuhan province following the coronavirus outbreak. (AFP)
A February 2020 file picture shows a Royal Air Maroc (RAM) aircraft landing at Morocco's Benslimane airport carrying repatriated Moroccan citizens from China's Wuhan province following the coronavirus outbreak. (AFP)

CASABLANCA--Thousands of Moroccans stranded across the world are pleading for the government’s help to repatriate them in order to reunite with their families.

Some 18,226 Moroccans have been stranded abroad after Morocco shut down its airspace March 15 as part of a series of measures to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic, according to official statements.

The majority are stuck in countries that have been badly hit by the pandemic. A quarter of them are stuck in France (4,447) followed by Turkey (1,859), Spain (1,400) and Belgium (800).

Mohamed Ali Ommih went to Algeria on March 7 on a six-week work trip to train English teachers, but has been stuck since.

Ommih appealed in vain to the foreign ministry in a video on YouTube to help him get back to Morocco.

“The company that brought me to Algeria is providing me with accommodation despite the cancellation of the training course,” Ommih told Middle East Online.

“The most difficult thing is that I have two two-year-old twins who do not understand why I’m not with them,” said Ommih.

“Loneliness is also difficult. There is no government communication regarding our situation and no apology. We are feeling worthless,” he added.

The Anfass Democratic movement called on the government to “take its ethical responsibilities towards its stranded citizens and not be limited to a technical, legal and/or financial reading.”

“We consider, within the Anfass democratic movement, that a responsible and realistic solution is possible in order to put an end to this question as soon as possible,” said the movement in statement.

Civil engineer Mohammed Koutit was on holiday in Paris when Morocco cancelled all flights.

“I used all the rest of my holiday and I’m staying at my friend’s,” Koutit told Middle East Online.

“We are desperate to come back home. We created a WhatsApp group of 250 people stuck in France to talk about our plight,” said Koutit, adding that his friends were helping him financially to survive in the midst of the pandemic.

Over 2,600 stranded Moroccans are in dire financial situations, warning that they cannot sustain themselves in this difficult time.

Mohamed Basri, Director of the Consular and Social Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Morocco, told Moroccan TV channel 2M that the ministry has made funds available for consular services to help stranded Moroccans.

“Stranded Moroccans will be repatriated. But their return must be well prepared and successful according to specific measures in coordination with various actors including the health ministry,” said Basri without mentioning the dates for their repatriation.

Anfass said it believed that “it is for the competent magistrates to decide on this question and it is even healthy in a state of law to maintain a possible recourse to justice for the concerned citizens.”

Sabri Lhou, expert in international migration law said that states guarantee the right to return to the homeland in exceptional circumstances.

“Return to Morocco is guaranteed by the constitution, and the emergency law does not prevent the entry of stranded people,” Lhou wrote in Banassa.

Morocco has closed its borders and imposed a lockdown until May 20, enforced by security forces, to contain the spread of the disease which has infected 3377 people and killed 149 others.

This article was first published in Middle East Online.