By Molly Barstow
By Molly Barstow
Morocco World News
Chicago, December 27, 2012
It has recently been brought to my attention that a good friend of mine, Lamine, is stuck at the border of Morocco and Mauritania along with 45 other migrants from various origins, including Senegal, Cameroon, DR Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Burkina Faso and Liberia.
Although information is limited, sources claim that there are eight women, one of whom is pregnant as well as two children (ages 18 months and 4 years) and several refugees. Some of these migrants hold ‘laissez-passer’ papers but simply lack a visa for Mauritania and authorities are preventing them from entering. Moroccan authorities are similarly preventing re-entry of migrants, even for refugees who are protected from refoulement under the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which Morocco has ratified.
Communication with the migrants is difficult, as many have been there since December 7th, and others since December 17th, and most phones either have dead batteries or were confiscated, as some of the migrants have explained. The battery of Lamine’s phone ran out after a few days in the desert, but luckily a truck driver who crossed the border donated him a spare phone and a biscuit, so he has been in contact with a mutual friend in Rabat who has been relaying information to me.
Migrants were gathered by Moroccan authorities predominantly from the cities of Rabat, Agadir, and Laayoune. The migrants are living off only the food and water that is being supplied to them by passers-by and occasionally by authorities.
This instance of expulsion comes during a time of increasing deportations and xenophobia in Morocco. Normally deportations occur by Oujda (a city by the Algerian border), though most migrants are successfully able to ‘reenter’ Morocco after less than a day. In my undergraduate studies of illegal migrants and refugees in Morocco, I have met many migrants who had been deported to Oujda on several occasions, with one young male boasting twenty-five deportations and reentries.
Xenophobia has been on the rise; sub-Saharan migrants in Morocco are perceived to be a threat to Moroccans’ jobs, particularly by lower classes that compete for the same jobs as migrants. Many of the migrants who make their way to Morocco, however, are well educated or are skilled workers. Many have to resort to unskilled labor jobs that do not utilize their abilities.
Despite the notion that all sub-Saharan migrants in Morocco are solely looking to cross into Melilla, Ceuta (Sebta), or to mainland Spain, many migrants are looking to settle in Morocco. Many study at Morocco’s universities and remain to find legal work. Others are UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)-recognized refugees and have no choice but to settle in Morocco. Forced from their homelands due to well-founded fear of persecution, refugees are denied the right to work, which much research suggests is the key to integration. They are thus forced to find work within the informal labor market and compete with Moroccans of low socioeconomic status.
This competition fuels much of the violence and discrimination that is so pervasive, like in the neighborhood of Taqadoum in Rabat, which has led to violence between Moroccans and sub-Saharans, with many migrants seriously injured or killed. And this violence, in turn, fuels migrants’ desire to leave Morocco.
Parallel to this increasing violence has come an increase in deportations. My friends and connections within the sub-Saharan community have relayed to me the intensifying situation and many have expressed their fears of deportation. Lamine was one such person. This past summer while I was still in Morocco he expressed his concern that Moroccan authorities would deport him. This past fall, his concerns continued and amplified, as more and more fellow sub-Saharan migrants were expelled to Oujda. On Christmas Eve, I found out from a mutual friend in Morocco that Lamine’s situation had worsened and he decided to go back to his country. However, he now finds himself within a large group of migrants––comprised of women, children, refugees, and illegal migrants––in no-man’s land with nowhere to go. Neither Moroccan authorities nor Mauritanian authorities will let Lamine––or the other migrants––through their border.
It is imperative that the Moroccan authorities allow the refugees and any asylum seekers back onto its territory as its actions are in dissonance with the 1951 Convention. Additionally, the women and children should be re-welcomed.
For the other migrants, I call on the Mauritanian government to allow them laissez-passer documents to pass through Mauritania to return to their home countries. Several migrants, including Lamine, had the sole intention of traversing Mauritania to return to their countries. Lamine had a laissez-passer from his embassy, but the Mauritanian government refused to acknowledge it. In order to respect the human rights of these migrants, the Mauritanian government must allow them to pass through.
On behalf of my dear friend Lamine, the other migrants, all those who know them, and myself, I ask both the Moroccan and Mauritanian governments to show humanity toward these migrants. As human rights are universal, it is imperative that States cooperate in ensuring the human rights of everyone, regardless of citizenship or legal status.
For interested readers, a friend has created an online petition in support of Lamine and the other migrants.
Molly Barstow is an undergraduate at Northwestern University. She first came to Morocco when she studied abroad in the fall of 2011 and was introduced to dozens of migrants in the sub-Saharan community. She then returned in the summer of 2012 to continue her undergraduate research on a grant from Northwestern, and studied livelihood strategies of sub-Saharan refugees in Rabat.