By Fabíola Ortiz
Morocco, traditionally a pathway for sub-Saharan Africans wanting to reach Europe, is now enforcing a national strategy to contain the flow of migrants towards the EU and stifle the aspirations of those still wanting to cross.
There are many reasons that lead people to depart from their countries and become a migrant, often risking their lives on dangerous routes in search of a better life.
Abdoul Karime is a 19-year-old Ivorian who first came to Morocco in 2013 when he was still a teenager and since then has been living amid improvised tents in an informal settlement next to the main train station in the city of Fez.
“I left because of poverty, I had no money to live nor family to support me. I’m alone and decided to leave my town to reach Europe and make my living there”, told IDN.
Karime, who does not know how to read or write, dreams of going to England, and sees Morocco only as a waiting place.
Life in Morocco has not been easy for undocumented migrants like Karime. Lack of formal jobs is just one of the many difficulties migrants face once they arrive in this North African country.
“I have no food to eat,” said Karime. “I’ve looked for a job everywhere and I’ve never found one. I would do any sort of work just to get some money.”
Karime is among the thousands of sub-Saharan Africans living in Morocco without the legal status of residence. Although he applied to be regularised, he did not meet the bureaucratic criteria required for obtaining a legal permit.
As a country of passage and with an increasing number of foreign residents since the early 2000s, Morocco has been tightening the control of irregular migration to the EU.
A 2013 report on Morocco by the UN Committee on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families pointed to the need to amend Law 02-03 (2003) which officially deals with the “entry and stay of foreigners into the Kingdom of Morocco, irregular emigration and immigration.”
Morocco’s National Human Rights Council has also called for changes to Morocco’s immigration policy. According to the Migration Policy Centre at the European University Institute, among the reforms advocated by the NHRC are halting “police violence against irregular migrants and their deportation to Morocco’s borders, the correction of discrimination against non-nationals, access to justice and basic services.”
A global policy on immigration was subsequently prepared, focusing mainly on asylum, immigration, human trafficking and integration.
A mass regularisation campaign was carried out in 2014 with strict conditions. People in illegal situations had to satisfy a number of prerequisites such as having held a valid labour contract for the previous two years or demonstrating five years of continuous residence in the country.
Karime had no permanent job to show and his application was turned down.
Unlike Karime, 25-year-old Khadija Turé from Senegal was among the lucky applicants who had their request approved but she is still waiting for the official paper to be issued.
She left Dakar three years ago with her husband, who was lucky to find a fixed job in a factory in Fez. Turé, instead, wanders around down-town as a street seller offering cheap jewellery.
“It’s insane what people do to cross the sea to Europe. I’d never do that, I want to get legal papers. If I could take a safer way to Europe, I would. Inshallah. What I’d really like to have done was stay in Senegal but there’s no money there,” she lamented.
Nousa Omusigho, a 52-year-old Nigerian father of two children, has been struggling over the last 17 years he has been residing in Morocco after leaving Nigeria due to the threats imposed by the radical Islamist group Boko Haram.
Most of his years in Morocco were spent without documents until he was finally regularised in 2014, but that has not solved all his problems.
Omusigho talked to IDN on a cold, windy and grey day in the city of Oujda, near the Algerian border. He was standing in front of a supermarket entrance begging for a few dirhams and seeking people’s solidarity.
“I have a Moroccan card, I am a citizen of this country, but I’m not living fine here,” he said. “I beg for money and use it for eating and for paying the rent. My wife is also Nigerian and lives here too. She tried to go to Europe once, but was deported from Spain.”
He told IDN that if he ever had enough money he would take his family back to Nigeria, saying “I’m sick, I’m not living well. I want to go back home now.”
By September 2014, there were around 86,000 non-nationals in Morocco, with sub-Saharan Africans accounting for the majority. Estimates of those in an irregular situation differ, but the governmental campaign for regularisation covered around 21,500 requests concerning nationals of non-Arab African countries, out of approximately 27,600.
“The question that raises now is what to do in the post-regularisation phase,” said Latifa Benameur, a project assistant at the Moroccan Human Rights Organisation (OMDH) based in Oujda, some 500 km from the capital Rabat.
“Integrating migrants within the society is an enormous challenge. The new migration strategy has not been adapted to the specific needs migrant communities have, like professional training.”
At the same time, she noted,
“we’re close to the border with Algeria. Everyday there are new people coming, they have to pay smugglers because the Algerian-Moroccan border is closed. Most people dream about Europe.”
Said Kaddami, an activist for the Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH), the oldest association in the country established in 1979, is sceptical about the new policy.
Kaddami is based in the city of Nador, near the Spanish autonomous enclave of Melilla, where hundreds of migrants try to storm the fence from time to time to cross into Spanish soil.
“It’s a failed policy, nothing has changed here in Nador, Kaddami told IDN. “The way the police and the government deal with migrants is still the same, they’re arresting them. Migrants are suffering in the hands of the police. Morocco doesn’t give any safe place or shelter to stay, they just want to take migrants away from the fence borders.”
The image Morocco is selling to the international community is one of a good place to stay and one in which “immigrants want to settle” but, he added, the migrants who are arriving have the goal of crossing and becoming so-called ‘bosas’.
‘Bosa’ is a colloquial expression referring to the sub-Saharan Africans who are able to overcome all barriers and finally cross the fences to the EU.
“I don’t see people wanting to stay,” said Kaddami. “They have no place here.”