It is no longer news that various European nations are shutting their doors to boat migrants. With the rise of populism in Europe; the triumph of far-right parties in Italy; and the ongoing civil war in Libya, Morocco has become the preferred land route for sub-Saharan migrants fleeing conflicts and harsh economic conditions in the region. Consequently, there has been a significant spike in the number of those risking life and limb in desperate attempts to reach Spain from Northern Morocco via the treacherous waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
While Morocco is generally tolerant of sub-Saharan African refugees with the government granting residency to thousands a few years ago, police brutality is still a major concern. Though ordinary Moroccans are mostly hospitable towards black African migrants, there are racist elements who exploit, harass and abuse them. In cities such as Tangier and Nador, individuals are being hounded out of their homes and hunted out of town like wild animals by the police. Some bear terrible psychological and physical scars inflicted by callous security agents. There are allegations of rapes and illegal appropriation of refugee valuables, especially mobile phones. Not even nursing mothers and babies have been spared this inhuman treatment. Many now live in forests, returning to town occasionally to scavenge for food and obtain necessities.
Unscrupulous locals who resent the presence of black migrants in their communities are also making life difficult for refugees. Recently a make-shift migrant accommodation near the Fez train station was burnt down by miscreants, rendering hundreds of inhabitants completely homeless.
In towns like Nador, Shylock landlords and businesses are taking advantage of the situation. They hike up rental rates and artificially inflate the prices of goods and services to vulnerable black migrants. We witnessed the shocking situation where a taxi driver charged a black African nine times the fare that was paid by other locals for the same cab journey. In another instance, mistaking a black member of our team for an African migrant, a taxi attempted extorting 400 Moroccan Dirhams from him for a typical 40 Dirham trip. On being confronted over this blatant discrimination, his excuse for the inordinate fare was that he thought our man was an undocumented migrant.
Another disturbing issue is the phenomenon of modern-day slavery which has become normal within the migrant community. Human trafficking gangs, mainly from Nigeria, are pimping out defenceless Nigerian girls, many of them clearly under-aged. Victims are forced into Moroccan streets to beg and to prostitute for money which is then remitted to these criminals. Intimidation and violence are deployed to keep victims subservient.
These abusive and discriminatory practices are making life unbearable for black refugees in Morocco. They are clear violations of the fundamental human rights of these marginalised individuals. We call on the Moroccan authorities to do more to ensure the protection and welfare of black migrants in the country. The embassies of sub-Saharan African nations in Morocco, particularly that of Nigeria should also be doing more to protect human trafficking victims and to support refugees.
We met with a number of refugee and migrant groups, including victims of human trafficking in Nador and Fez. The interaction provided us with the opportunity to enlighten them on alternative legal routes to migration that they can safely explore. Safe and legal immigration avenues like low skilled, skilled, and unskilled migrant programmes and affordable ‘study abroad’ opportunities were discussed. We also gave them all-weather jackets, hats, shirts, first aid boxes with basic medical supplies, portable radios, sanitary pads (for the women), toiletries, food items and groceries. These are some images of our meetings with two groups.
Photos from Nador
Photos from Fez
We have covered some faces to protect the identities of some of the women