By Hiam El Hilali
By Hiam El Hilali
Ifrane – Mediaedia persistently emphasize that the massive influx of refugees in Greece hoping to cross neighboring European borders are predominantly from Afghanistan and Syria. There is less of a focus on the fact that a countless number of these refugees are scammers from Morocco.
Last week, I chaperoned my students to Athens along with another teacher who had organized the trip in order to learn about Greek history, arts, politics, financial crisis, and even the refugee crisis. During our stay, we volunteered with an NGO that provides aid to refugees and asylum seekers in Athens by means of clothing, food, language learning, and other basic needs. Given that the world these days is in so much chaos, with millions of displaced persons stranded in several nations, it is important to teach our students about what other people in life have to go through.
Although we expected to see Afghans, whose country has been at war for more than thirty years, as well as Syrian nationals who have fled the long-lasting civil war, we certainly did not expect to see Moroccans pretending to be refugees. Moroccans are amongst the top three most numerous nationalities that Greece has been receiving in recent months as refugees. These Moroccans fabricate all sorts of false statements about their country just to obtain free help from various NGOs. The image of Morocco in Europe has been distorted with the invasion of these fake refugees both in Greece and elsewhere. In fact, some of these scammers have been recently reported by the media in Germany, for instance, but until you see them, this remains something hard to believe.
During our short time as volunteers, we came across Moroccans who pretended and claimed to be Syrians although they had no passports to prove it. We saw Moroccans who tried to speak with a Levantine accent to appear like Syrians although their accent was thick and noticeably non-Syrian and was instantly and easily recognized by other Arabic-speaking volunteers. These Moroccans also tell the volunteers that Morocco is an unstable nation which is why they had to flee.
The Moroccan scammers did not expect to find Moroccan volunteers in Athens. At some point when we were helping out in the clothing section of the NGO, three Moroccan ladies walked in, and one of them addressed us in Arabic in an offensive manner: “Syrians, yallah, all of you get out of here.” In the clothing section, we unpacked clothing donations, which we sorted out depending on age and gender. When the refugees came into the room in small groups, they chose the clothes they needed depending on the number of family members. While all other nationalities walked out of the place with one plastic bag of clothes per family, some Moroccans managed to leave with three bags each.
Since we also speak Darija, the Moroccan dialect, we heard them say “just take any clothes, we will sell them later on.” They were stunned when we talked with them and realized that we were also from Morocco. They told us other obscene lies as to why they left Morocco, because now they could not dare tell us that Morocco is unstable. One of my students pointed out to them, “do you really need three bags of clothes?” They threatened us that if we did not hush, they would meet with us once outside. According to another volunteer who works there full time, these Moroccans have already previously threatened several volunteers in the same place, and they have also been aggressive with and physically harassed some of the Syrians. Instead of allowing these NGOs to provide help to people who have been devastated by war, these scammers get in the way and obstruct the help from getting to those who really need it.
The Moroccan scammers we saw in Athens, albeit during a short stay, are not representative of all Moroccans. Those Moroccans, however, present a bad image of Morocco. Although Morocco might have some problems just like anywhere else, that is definitely not justification to have an overflow of scammers all over Europe during the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East. Morocco as a nation has hosted thousands of Syrian refugees in every major city, particularly Tangier and Casablanca, where the refugees have received a considerable amount of help from Moroccan citizens.
The image of Morocco in Greece is definitely damaged by these scammers who have also caused security concerns to Greece and not just to the NGOs. Instead of being perceived as a sunny country with a rich history located on the other side of the Mediterranean, we are rather seen as troublemakers. Unless we become aware of this problem of Moroccan scammers, and do something about it, the perception of Moroccans in Europe and the whole world will continue to deteriorate.
Photo by Reuters
Hiam El Hilali teaches Social Studies at Al Akhawayn School in Ifrane. She holds a Master’s Degree in International Relations & Diplomacy from the Al Akhawayn University. She has previously conducted numerous researches on war zones including Lebanon and ex-Yugoslavia.