Thousands of Sub-Saharan African migrants stranded in MoroccoMigrants from Cameroon, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and Gambia constitute some of the largest undocumented migrant groupsMost survive by begging and scavenging for food from binsThousands, including women and children, live in forests, caves and mountains without water, electricity and other basic amenitiesUndocumented migrants can not work or do business, and they do not have access to social services
We have just returned from recent field trips to African migrant camps in Morocco.Our team visited refugees in the border town of Oujda and another large camp in the ancient Moroccan town of Fes.
Oujda town, Morocco
The Medina in Oujda
During the cause of the trip,we were able to distribute clothing and food as well as offer much-needed counselling to hundreds of disillusioned suffering Sub-Saharan African migrants stranded in Morocco on their way to Europe.
Distributing clothes to migrants at the Oujda camp
Ecstatic refugees in the Guinean Section of the camp trying on the clothes
Giving clothes to occupants of one of the Ghanaian tents
Moroccans are generally hospitable and a recent research by the Legatum Institute, listed the country as the 3rd most prosperous nation in Africa.There are huge infrastructural development projects going on all over the country and it is the number one tourist destination in the continent with a record 10 million international tourist visits in 2013.
These positive points are however tainted by a high rate of youth unemployment.About 22% of males and 38% females are unemployed.To add to this dismal picture,official figures indicate that about 40% of young men and 90% of young women who were not studying in the last few years are either unemployed or are part of the economically inactive population.
It is quite common to find able-bodied Moroccans begging for money on the streets of major cities and towns.There is also a high number of homeless children roaming the streets due to poverty and other social factors.A 2012 statistic indicates that there are over 30 thousand destitute kids sleeping on Moroccan streets, Al Arabiya News.
In the light of these challenges,it is not surprising that Morocco is struggling to deal with the influx of African migrants daily trooping into the country from all over the continent.The government is confronted with the difficult multi-pronged problem of trying to prevent these migrants from entering Moroccan territory through its porous borders;fighting to stop those already in the country from getting into Europe through Morocco’s land and sea routes; and struggling to handle those stranded in the country without the means to continue towards Europe or to go back to their home country.
It is difficult to give an accurate estimate of the number of refugees in this beautiful and culturally rich north African country.However, recent research suggests there could be as many as 40,000 illegal immigrants representing over 100 nations, residing in the country.
The majority of these immigrants are blacks from Sub-Saharan Africa.Many of them are fleeing wars,epidemics,economic hardship,political instability and various challenging situations in their home countries.
Migrants are scattered all over the nation,with a large concentration in the northern region of Morocco.Cities such as Tangier,Nador,Oujda,Casablanca,Rabat and Fes are known to have a good representation of these Europe bound travellers.
While some African migrants are known to have settled in Morocco,trading,doing menial low-paid jobs and living in squalid accommodation,a significant number are homeless and live in dehumanizing conditions in forests,mountains and makeshift camps in various parts of the country.
We were at two prominent camps.The first is located in Oujda in the open forest beside the city’s university,while the second is situated in the open field next to the main train station at Fes.
Arriving at the Oujda camp
There are hundreds of refugees in both camps that we went to.Those at Fes are estimated to be between 400 to 500 people in number,while the Oujda camp also has a couple of hundred refugees.
These are unofficial camps,functioning on their own and administered along communal lines by the migrants themselves, and bereft of the presence of any local or international aid organisations.
Each camp is divided into small groups of ramshackled tents,composed of the main nationalities represented within the community.Cameroonians constitute the largest groups in both camps.Yaya, leader of the Oujda Cameroon camp group, informed us that there are over 200 Cameroonian immigrants living there.There were also large numbers of Nigerians,Ghanaians,Gambians,Malians,Guineans and other francophone Africans in the two camps.
Parts of the very large migrant camp in Fes Morocco
This section houses migrants from Mali,Senegal,Gambia and Ivory Coast
Migrants from Cameroon are quite many in this camp.These tents belong to a group of Cameroonians.
There are a number of large Nigerian groups at the Fes camp.These tents belong to one of those groups.A certain group sleeps on the rail lines right under a faulty train.
Conditions in these camps are so bad that even animals might find it challenging surviving here.All that separates the inhabitants from the harsh unforgiving north African weather are small improvised huts made up of a combination of polyethylene material,cardboard paper,pieces of stones,sticks and damaged car tyres.
Inside a migrant’s tent
There are no toilets,no clearly defined cooking areas,no medical facilities,no electricity supply,no pipe borne water,and absolutely no proper infrastructure whatsoever.When they need to answer the call of nature,they simply do it out in the open field right next to where they sleep,shielded only by tall grasses and a few trees.Cooking is also done in the open with dry wood collected from the area.
Migrants live side by side with piles of rubbish at Fes Camp
Migrant kids are growing up in this unhygienic environment
The ‘bathroom’ at Fes
A Nigerian migrant doing his laundry in camp
Toilet area at Fes Camp
Cooking area at Oujda
It is difficult to comprehend how these people survive from day to day.There are men, women, children and even babies eating, sleeping and somehow carving out an existence here.Without proper documentation and without jobs, their options are pretty limited.The majority spend the day begging for money from passing cars in town.Time is also spent scavenging for food at the Medina.The situation is so depressing that it has left some mentally deranged.Visit the Oujda camp and you would find a completely mad migrant living with the others there.He roams about, gathering rubbish in the neighbourhood.
Migrants running after cars to beg for money on the streets
Looking out for cars to beg money from
A migrant observing prayers under a tree at Oujda
Though Moroccan society as well as the authorities are generally tolerant in their attitudes towards migrants, some undocumented Africans interviewed, complained of persecution and victimization by certain elements of the Moroccan police.A number of them had terrible physical scars sustained from brutal beatings.There were also allegations of unlawful confiscation and theft of their phones and money by law enforcement agents.Minor instances of racial discrimination were also reported.
Due to severe hardship, some migrants get lured into a life of crime.They resort to human trafficking, drug peddling and cyber crimes.We were reliably informed that there are many African migrants in Moroccan prisons.Some Nigerians in both locations told us there are at least 2 Nigerian citizens serving up to 20 year sentences for various criminal offences in Morocco.One is said to be doing time for murder.
Caught Between A Rock And A Hard Place
We encountered a number illegal immigrants in the camp who have given up on their dream to make it to Europe.One of them Ivan Falou from Cameroon, told us he was ready to leave Morocco immediately, but that the only thing holding him back was a one way ticket back home.Frustrated, defeated and suffering, they are desirous to return back to their home countries.But going back is a major problem as they do not have the means to do so.Many complained that they could not get needed support from their embassies and humanitarian organisations in Morocco.
Ivan F from Cameroon wants to return home but has no money to purchase a ticket
With a view to addressing the huge migrant crisis in the country, the Moroccan government, under the direction of its very popular monarch,King Mohammed VI, initiated a migrant integration programme aimed at regularizing the status of thousands of illegal immigrants in Morocco.Based on meeting certain stipulated pre-requisites, about 18 thousand undocumented persons were granted the right to legal residency.
However, this liberal gesture has sadly not changed the lot of the many thousands who were not affected by the documentation exercise.Many are still living like animals on the fringes of the Moroccan society with no hope of going forward towards Europe, no funds to go back to their own countries, and no prospect of settling down permanently in Morocco.
Refuge Network International