By Anna Jacobs
By Anna Jacobs
Morocco World News
Rabat, January 23, 2013
A young man from Guinea shared his story with me in a small apartment in Takadoum, a quartier populaire in Rabat. Like the many of the migrants in an irregular situation in Morocco, he entered the country through Mohammed V Airport in Casablanca, after he finished his studies in Chemistry in his home country of Guinea. “In Guinea, there are not many labs for completing an internship after you finish studying,” he explained. Thus, he and his parents decided that it would be best for him to travel to Morocco in 2008 to pursue an internship after he obtained his “Bac + 4.”
He found an internship at a lab in Salé which lasted nine months, and he obtained the necessary paperwork through his embassy to enable this experience in Morocco. He wanted to return home at the beginning of 2009 to search for a job, but the military had taken over in Guinea, and his parents advised him to stay in Morocco and look for work. Not only did he find work, but he also became an active member of the Council of sub-Saharan Migrants in Morocco (CMSM) after he began to see the human rights violations that they were facing. He did indeed find a job. He works from 8am to 4pm with a construction company every day except Sundays and spends his little free time advocating for the rights of his fellow migrants. While he recognizes what Moroccan and international associations are attempting to do on behalf of his fellow migrants, he insisted that “We must also speak for ourselves.” He has yet to obtain a residency permit, after four years in Morocco. He shares a very small apartment with two other young men and two women. They pay MAD 1,600 a month, but because they are all “sans-papier,” they are forced to pay the electricity and water of the entire building, as a compromise.
This is one experience, out of thousands, of sub-Saharan African migrants attempting to battle the difficult realities that come with living “sans-papier,” in the Kingdom of Morocco. It is essential to emphasize the great divergence among this population. As this testimony reveals, this young man and his roommates are forced to pay the electricity and water for the entire building in exchange for the landlord not turning them in to the authorities. This is only one example of that many types of discrimination and exploitation that irregular immigrants face.
He came to Morocco with the equivalent of a Bachelor’s degree, and he entered Morocco completely legally, to pursue an internship after he finished his studies. He overstayed his allotted residency period in Morocco because he felt he could not return to his country after a military coup. Thus, he finds himself without papers, living in fear of the authorities, while also finding the time and energy to not only work to support himself, his friends, and his family, but to also devote countless hours struggling for the rights of migrants.
His experience is nonetheless extremely different from those living in the woods near Oujda, as I described above. Some of these individuals have been deported dozens of time and are simply waiting for the chance to attempt a crossing into European territory. He told me that he had no desire to go on to Europe. He found work and opportunities in Morocco. The variance in personal experiences also reflects how Morocco is no longer just a country of emigration for its own citizens or transit for migrants seeking the European El Dorado, but it has also become a country of immigration for many sub-Saharan migrants looking for a stable environment to pursue their studies, internships, and work experiences.
A young woman from Cameroon shared a somewhat different story. We sat for almost three hours while she told me of how she was rejected seven times for a Schengen VISA, so she finally settled on continuing her studies in Morocco. However, even with her student identification through a private university in Morocco and her Moroccan VISA, she, along with two of her friends from Senegal, were all arrested and taken to the Prefecture in Rabat on December 28, 2002. She was in a prison cell for four days, without even hearing formal charges. Then she, along with several others, were deported to the no-man’s land between Morocco and Algeria.
Like the majority who are deported to this area, they just hide till the evening and walked back to Oujda on foot. She described how, by “the grace of God,” there was a migrant with them who had been deported many times and consequently knew the best strategy to get back to Oujda. “We walked in a line and took off any light colored clothes, so that the military couldn’t see us…we covered our mouths the entire way back so that the dogs couldn’t hear or smell our breaths. It took us all night…walking, then hiding and waiting, then walking again.” They finally made it back to Oujda. “Oh how God is great,” she said. “A Moroccan taxi driver picked us up, understanding the situation, and dropped us off near the university, where we would be safe and could hide.” She then took a train back from Oujda to Rabat. “I sobbed in the train…I finally felt safe enough to uncover my mouth.”
The opening quotation of this chapter is from a Nigerian man who lives in Takadoum and finds himself waiting for his chance to enter the European El Dorado. His story is indeed a common one. He works from time to time in construction to try and save up money to fund a seat on a boat to Spain. Yet the inconsistency of work and the threat from police renders his life a particularly difficult one. However, he holds on to his faith in God, but also his faith in a Europe that does not exist. The other two stories come from irregular migrants living and working in Rabat, one with a construction association and the other for a call center. This second category is also a common story.
There are immigrants who are indeed in transit and look to cross into their romanticized European promise land, and then there are those who are attempting to establish a life here. The young Nigerian had been in Morocco for a short few months, while the others had lived in Morocco for several years. Through my experiences, Morocco is indeed both a country of transit, immigration, and what some scholars describe as “forced immigration,” for those persons who came to Morocco with the objective of crossing into Europe and discover the difficulty of this venture. I came into contact with many migrants through my work in the Program for Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration at IOM, who also fit into this last category. They came to IOM looking for financial support to return to their country of origin because they found themselves more or less “stuck” in Morocco, without the funds to attempt another crossing into Europe, and without the funds to return home. Some of them had been in Morocco for a few short months, and others for as long as ten years.
Part 4: Quantitative Support; studies revealing characteristics about the sub-Saharan migrant population in Morocco, as well as their precarious living situations
The AMERM studies currently stand as one of the few that investigates the living conditions of sub-Saharan immigrants in Morocco, as well as the perceptions among the migrant and host country population, based on a sampling size of 1,000; 250 in Casablanca, 200 in Rabat, 150 in Tangier, 150 in Nador, 150 in Oujda, 100 in Bouarfa. Below are some of the key statistics that demonstrate some basic information on the sample population, the diversity of this population, as well as their living conditions in Morocco. Note especially the relatively high level of education, contrary to popular stereotypes of low-skilled migrant workers.
This table shows grouping of the Sampling Size according by Educational Level according to Sex
Another factor that my study did not look to focus on, but nonetheless affects the lives of sub-Saharan immigrants in Morocco, is the effect of the journey to Morocco. As articulated above, this does not include the entirety of the migrant population in Morocco. However, for those who do travel up through Morocco, either by bus, car, or on foot, they do arrive in the Kingdom with a host of health-related problems to add to their vulnerable legal status in Morocco. AMERM also posed the question relating to the problems immigrants encountered on their trip to Morocco. This table highlights the plethora of physical and psychological challenges that immigrants face as they travel, typically up north from western and central Africa, towards the Maghreb region.
Additionally, AMERM’s 1000 sampling size of sub-Saharan immigrants hints at the extent of hostility and discrimination vis-à-vis the Moroccan population, at a social level. In other words, the population faces not only institutional cases of discrimination, but also trends of hostility at a social level. While, only 14% of the Moroccan sampling size admitted that they were racist towards sub-Saharan African immigrants, the opinion of migrants is quite different. See Tables eight, nine, and ten below.
The preliminary findings of the 2012 study financed by the EU and organized by IPPR, CCME, and PICUM shares many of these conclusions in terms of the precariousness of the situation of sub-Saharan migrants in Morocco, especially as regards questions of discrimination vis-à-vis the authorities and the Moroccan population. With a sampling size of fifty sub-Saharan immigrants in an irregular situation, they assert that:
Il y a un sentiment largement répandu parmi les migrants qu’ils font l’objet de discrimination au Maroc. Ce sentiment ne se limite pas uniquement à leurs rapports avec les autorités marocaines et la police des frontières, il est plutôt perçu comme une « situation quotidienne », et quelque chose qui est également ressentie dans d’autres contextes nationaux tels que l’Espagne ou l’Algérie….Cette question du sentiment de discrimination est apparue sous une forme ou une autre à travers tous nos entretiens.
In summary, the sub-Saharan migrant population in an irregular situation in Morocco is a diverse one. My research has demonstrated that Morocco is indeed a country of transit, immigration, and “forced immigration.” Furthermore, sub-Saharan immigrants experience similar challenges throughout the Kingdom, due to the gap between legal theory and practice in terms of the application of law 02-03, but especially in terms of Morocco’s ratification of the international convention relating to the status of refugees and the rights of migrant workers and the members of their families. Law 02-03 has some progressive stipulations, but needs to be reformed to better correspond to the stipulation of the international convention relating to the rights of migrant workers and their families.
Sub-Saharan irregular migrants also experience varying degrees of aggression vis-à-vis the Moroccan authorities, which increases as one travels closer to the points of departure and crossings, which are typically the urban centers of Nador, Oujda, and Tangier. Altogether, the qualitative and quantitative evidence reveals that sub-Saharan irregular immigrants experience several difficulties relating to their legal status and discrimination, both at an institutional and social level. This hinders access to necessities such as stable employment, access to health care, access to an education for children, as well as access to due process of law. All of this affirms the very precarious situation of sub-Saharan irregular immigrants in Morocco.
 Interview with A.B, in Takadoum, Rabat, April 10, 2012.
 Interview with C.H, Rabat, April 12,2012.
 Interview with Nigerian migrant in Takadoum, April 25, 2012.
 Khachani, Mohammed, “Les Marocains et Les Subsahariens: Quelles Relations?” (AMERM 2009). P. 26, 33, 37, 40, 52
 Alami Machichi, Houria, Benradi, Malika, and Mohammed Khachani, “De l’Afrique subsaharienne au Maroc: les realites de la migration irreguliere, Resultats d’une enquete socio-economique,” (AMERM, Reseau Afrique), 2008, p 56.
 Ibid, p. 89 for table 8, 9, and 10.
 IPPR, CCME, and PICUM preliminary findings cited in the section on Discrimination and Exclusion, in the project “Au-dela de l’irregularite,” in the conference “Migration irreguliere sub-saharienne au Maroc: Reponses politiques actuelle et defis a relever,” in Rabat on July 4, 2012.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Fulbright Program , Morocco World News, nor other affiliated organizations
Anna Jacobs graduated from the University of Virginia Phi Beta Kappa in 2010. She studied Foreign Affairs,Government, and French Language and Literature. She conducted research in 2009 in both Morocco and Algeria for her undergraduate thesis entitled “Sub-Saharan Migration in the Maghreb: the reality of race in Morocco and Algeria.”
To Be Continued …