Last month, Refuge Network International received news of an arson attack at the Fez migrant camp in Morocco.According to the refugees living at the camp,they were awoken in the middle of the night by fire in a number of their huts.The fire is suspected to have been caused by some locals who are not happy about the presence of refugees in the area.
Refugees were woken in the middle of the night by this fire which was allegedly started by some disgruntled locals
We went to Fez as well as Tangier and Oujda to see things for ourselves and to render support where necessary.It was also a follow-up visit of our last fact-finding trip to those locations.
At the “La Gare” camp in Fez, the situation had not changed much from what we saw on our last visit.The only noticeable noteworthy event there was the unprovoked night-time attack mentioned above.Some unknown persons set fire on the sleeping tents housing the refugees.Several tents were completely raised down in the night leaving the victims totally exposed to the elements in the cold January weather.
Thankfully, no one was hurt in the camp but it was a grim reminder to the refugees that not everyone was happy about their continued presence in the vicinity.
Our visit to Oujda however, revealed that the government had taken severe action against the refugee group at the “La Fac” settlement .We were made to understand that due to goings on at the camp and protests from certain sections of the local Moroccan community,the police stormed the place,arrested over 200 inhabitants and closed it down.
With their tents destroyed and faced with the stark option of retreating further into the surrounding bushes, many of the refugees who were later released by the police, headed for the nearby Algerian border with the intention of making it to Libya from where they hoped to be able to board boats to Europe.
Some of the arrested migrants who were found to be without documentation,were relocated away from the border town to major Moroccan cities like Rabat.
However, many former inhabitants of the ‘La Fac’ migrant camp decided to remain at Oujda. They told us they decided to pool their resources together in groups to enable them rent small apartments in town.So many of them are still in the old city doing the only ‘job’ available to them, street begging.It is common to see pregnant women and vulnerable migrant kids on the streets begging passers-by for money.
At Tangier, things had also changed.The migrant populated neighbourhood of Boukhalef as well as surrounding forests had been raided last year resulting in the arrest and detention of many refugees.Most of them were later relocated to other parts of the country and left on their own to somehow fend for themselves.
We distributed basic medical supplies as well as clothing to some of the refugees.
While we acknowledge the positive strides taken by the Moroccan government in recent times to regularize the status of thousands of migrants living in the country,we urge the authorities to look into these obvious cases of human rights abuse against vulnerable refugees in the country, to ensure that unpleasant incidents like these are curtailed.