Rabat - As the sub-Saharan migrant population in Oujda, Morocco, increases, the country must respond to the needs of a growing population with few integration opportunities.
Rabat – As the sub-Saharan migrant population in Oujda, Morocco, increases, the country must respond to the needs of a growing population with few integration opportunities.
While Morocco has been, for quite some time, primarily a country of emigration, it has undergone the process of transforming into a destination for migrants and refugees from sub-Saharan Africa since the mid 1990s. An increasing number of migrants from countries South of the Sahara travel to Morocco to pursue employment, a preferable economic environment, and education in the EU. The African immigrant population in Morocco also includes asylum seekers and refugees fleeing conflict and oppression in their countries of origin.
Alex, young man from Cameroon, has been in Morocco for nearly a year, after moving his family through the Sahara desert with human traffickers to arrive at the border. After a dangerous and difficult migration, Alex has found that Morocco’s prospects aren’t what he dreamed they would be. “Everyone has different reasons for leaving their home country,” he says. In his case, it was difficult to make a living in Cameroon. Alex runs a hand over his face. “There is a difference between living and surviving. And in Cameroon, there is not enough money to live.”
Today, many migrants like Alex live in Oujda, a university city located on the East border of Morocco, next to Algeria. Oujda’s location, only 27 kilometers from its Algerian sister city, Maghnia, makes it a primary entrance and settlement point for sub-Saharans throughout the migration journey. While many sub-Saharan migrants expect to use Morocco as a staging ground before entering Europe, an increasing number fail or do not continue on to the EU, remaining in Morocco and creating a notable rise in immigrant residents.
Sub-Saharans, as a growing sector of the Moroccan population, often have a difficult time integrating fully to the new location and establishing stable lives. Wariness of and racism against sub-Saharans leads to the economic, political, and personal insecurity of newcomers and their descendants. According to a study carried out by the Moroccan Association for Studies and Research on Migration, only about half of Moroccans interviewed would be willing to work with or hire a sub-Saharan.
Sub-Saharan migrants in Morocco, then, are stranded in their involuntary waiting room. They have limited access to capital, and are frequently treated with hostility on the part of the local population. Those who are not educated, fluent in the language, or do not possess desired skills find Morocco inhospitable.
This inability to find work easily builds an economic barrier between migrants and their environment. Alex says, “Work for sub-Saharans is the biggest problem for me in Morocco. There is no work for migrants. Don’t give me fish. Take me to go fishing. That’s the problem with integration in Morocco.”
Lack of capital makes economic participation difficult, and the battle for income uses potential socializing time. Unemployment restricts the ability to engage in Moroccan society through the workforce, social circles, and creates a greater public division between Moroccans and migrants. Alex says, “They just don’t give jobs to migrants. If you have work, give me the job! It shouldn’t matter where I’m from. Yet nothing ever changes.
Seeking family provisions has potential to build integration obstacles for next of kin. Migrant children may spend their days with working parents, rather than at school or with Moroccans, and have a difficult time naturally finding their way into the population.
Alice and Mary are two Nigerian mothers who left their homes under the threat of Boko Haram. They, like Alex, traveled to Morocco through the Sahara with human traffickers, in deadly heat and poor provisions. They now live in Oujda with young children, and cannot find employment: both support their families by begging on the street. Like other migrant mothers, they keep their children out of school – away from inconvenience, a Muslim education, or a foreign language. Alice says that she intentionally keeps her children out of school. Moroccan institutions are Islamic, and she wants her kids to get a Nigerian education. “There’s one Nigerian instructor, but he went to Europe,” she says. No Nigerian teacher equates to no education.
Mary explains that she can’t take her children to school, because she needs to spend time providing for her family. “The reason they are not going to school is because if I have to go beg, nobody is able to take [my daughter] to and from school, and this is stressful for me.” As a mother trying to provide, the most Mary can do is devote her entire day to begging.
The language barrier also prevents their young children from integrating. “None of the schools speak English. We don’t speak French or Arabic. We cannot compete with them,” says Mary. “We do not have friends. Our children stay with our family.” The intentional effort to keep migrant children out of Moroccan systems may ultimately damage their ability to adapt to social surroundings, as they remain isolated within non-Moroccan communities and lack the necessary skills to become involved in Moroccan society.
From here, Morocco must acknowledge its growing role as a country of immigration in response to increasing criticism by national and international NGOs on the escalation of mistreatment of migrants. In 2013, King Mohammed VI announced a new policy that includes avenues for regularization of unauthorized African immigrants. The move signified first time acceptance on the part of the Moroccan government of Morocco’s reality – yet the policy has yet to be extensively implemented.
Mohammed Amarti of CNDH (a French acronym for the National Human Rights Council) offers the perspective of Morocco’s organizations that offer aid to sub-Saharan migrants. He says he knows that the help provided often isn’t enough for migrants to sustain themselves: however, it’s difficult to do more.
“Morocco, specifically, is forced to think about this issue more than other North African countries, because we are so close to Europe,” says Amarti. Geographically, Morocco is a place of mobility and transit. Historically, it has been sending residents to Europe in an effort to lower unemployment rates. However, Amarti says, “For the past couple of decades, Morocco has not only been a transit country, but a destination country. Especially for sub-Saharan migrants.” Since the tightening of Europe’s border controls, Oujda is no longer a stop on the way to the EU, but the end of the road. Morocco has, therefore, found itself in a new situation, in which it must handle large numbers of migrants not only entering, but staying.
“The migrant issue is that people are staying here for longer amounts of time than ever before. Morocco is concerned with developing jobs and education for Moroccans, and now must account for providing the same services to a new influx of people,” Amarti explains. He says that since 2013, the national strategy for migrant integration hasn’t offered as much as it should.
“In principle, migrants who have been regularized should have the exact same rights as Moroccans. In reality, however, migrants are often switching cities and cannot get settled. They cannot find community and they do not educate their children. It’s messy.”
Amarti says that CNDH has put recommendations in place to update the nations laws in order to fight exploitation of migrants. These particular integration strategies only began in 2014, and Amarti recognizes the need for more time to pass before analyzing the effects. “This is a new experience. It’s one of the first times Moroccans have ever had to deal with different people moving in. They don’t know how to react yet.” Amarti shrugs. “Morocco was not ready for this flow of people. It’s going time for the situation to be solved.”