The Sub-Saharan community in Morocco: A view from within

The Sub-Saharan community in Morocco: A view from within

Mohammed Ouhemmou

Morocco World News

Casablanca, February 27, 2013

The interest in the sub-Saharan migrants has grown over the past few years, and as a result many reports about the sub-Saharan community emerged.  One of the problems that plagues these reports is the fact that they tend to see the community as homogeneous and unified. In this article I argue that there are differences within the sub-Saharan community which have been ignored in the existing literature.

It is very difficult to claim that the migrant society in Morocco is all about a unified body trying to survive in a new difficult place. When talking about the sub-Saharan community in Morocco, one cannot overlook the fact that there is some kind of animosity between the migrants themselves. Such animosities can result from the fact that they belong to different cultures, countries and also because they have had different experiences.

Many of the migrants whom I met while conducting my research on sub-Saharan women in Morocco drew my intention to the divisions within the community. For instance, migrants from Cameron or Ghana complained a great deal that migrants from Senegal and Mali are privileged by the Moroccan state. Some migrants stated that their lives could be easier if they had a different citizenship. Camera who is from Cameron and Pierre who is from the Ivory Coast expressed how being Senegalese could have made their lives a lot easier.

“A Senegalese citizen can travel to Morocco with no visa, all he needs is a passport; while us from Cameroon, we need a visa to get to Morocco. While in Morocco, a Senegalese can easily get a job simply because he can easily get a residency card. Personally, it took me six years to have my residency card, I applied for it in 2004 and I didn’t get it until 2010.”(Pierre)

For Sub-Saharan migrants, the residency card is not just a document that you can do without; a residency card means that the migrant can move freely and get a job. If a migrant doesn’t have a residency card, it will be difficult for him even to get a roof on his/her head.

Another view was provided by another migrant who states that the Senegalese are not really privileged in Morocco. For him, the fact that the citizens of one state can be privileged is all about state conventions. For example, in Morocco a French person would certainly be privileged over another person from Italy. When it comes to sub-Saharan migrants, it is the same thing. The Senegalese are privileged in Morocco, the Malians are privileged in Algeria and the Gabonese are privileged in Tunisia.

It has to be clear that when we talk about privileges, it is not about any kind of special treatment but rather the elimination of certain obstacles of bureaucracy. Even if some migrants were spared from going through bureaucratic procedures, that doesn’t make Morocco a heaven because they will still have to face many kinds of problems.

Besides the nationality-based problems that sub-Saharan migrants have, there are also other language-based problems. The migrants from Anglophone countries like Nigeria are unlikely to mix with migrants from Francophone countries like Mali. Nigerians also find it hard to integrate in Morocco since it is a Francophone country unlike migrants who come from countries like Mali.

Sometimes there can be fights between two teams of migrants “usually the Nigerians with the Senegalese” and so another team has to interfere. The Cameroonians usually play the role of the peace maker within the society because they came from a bilingual country. The Cameroonian’s ability to speak both French and English helps them communicate and understand the two parties and facilitate reconciliation.

“Of course there must be problems, we are humans after all. We belong to different cultures, we speak different languages and most important we live in a hostile environment. I had a problem with some Nigerian migrants when I was in Oujda. They almost killed me, but I forgive them. The condition we live in are difficult, everyone is fighting for his own life,”said Pierre, a student from Senegal.

The difficulties that sub-Saharan migrants experience everyday are something that can create rifts within the community but in some cases this is something that brings migrants together and unifies them. For instance, migrants share houses and host other migrants regardless of their country of origin or any other consideration. As one of the migrants states “We say hello, although we may not know each other, we share our sense of otherness. It is our otherness what unifies us,”said Fatou, a student from Nigeria.

The sense of otherness and isolation is something that plays a big role in bringing the migrants together and encouraging them to stick to each other, the same as it makes many people see them as one homogeneous whole.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy

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