Refugees from around the globe have made Morocco their home, finding work, education, and support in the North African country.
Rabat – In 2000, the United Nations General Assembly established June 20 as World Refugee day.
Morocco, the first country on the African continent to sign the 1951 Refugee Convention, has played an important role in the lives of thousands of refugees who fled their home countries in search of safety.
While these refugees work to establish their new lives in Morocco, challenges remain for some individuals.
In 1951, the United Nations (UN) established the Refugee Convention, sometimes referred to as the Geneva Convention.
The treaty, which established an international definition for “refugee”, outlined their rights as well as the obligations of their host countries. This included the right not to be expelled, the right to work, and the right to education.
According to UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) statistics, over 8,000 refugees currently live in Morocco. When war broke out in Syria, a new wave of refugees and immigrants began flowing into Morocco.
The country now hosts refugees and asylum-seekers from over 50 countries. Most hail from Syria, Yemen, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, and other Sub-Saharan African countries.
While some of these individuals move on to other destinations, many remain and make Morocco their home.
When the Morrocan government recognized this trend, a new immigration and asylum policy was adopted.
Under the instructions of King Mohammed VI, the policy offers new protections for refugees under the National Policy on Immigration and Asylum (NPIA). Established in 2013, the policy includes access to education and the job market.
The years following the NPIA proved successful for some of these refugees.
Integration into Moroccan society
Diyaa, a Syrian shoemaker who fled Damascus, set up a successful business in Casablanca. His family had been making footwear for generations back in Syria. Diyaa used his skills to establish a workshop after settling in Morocco with his wife and two children.
In 2016, Diyaa was awarded a prize by the Moroccan Association for the Support and Promotion of Small Enterprises.
Diyaa’s business has grown over the years. He has been able to hire employees to keep up with customer demand. Diyaa gave back to his host country by hiring several Morrocans to his staff, whom he considers his “brothers.”
In Kenitra, a group of friends who had escaped the war in Yemen created the first refugee cooperative. The group opened the coop in 2017, a kindergarten called “Hope.”
The school, which employs several local teachers, holds classes in classical Arabic instead of Darija, the Morrocan dialect. This has allowed refugee children access to education.
Moroccan kindergartens tend to use the local dialect, when instructing young children. This can be a barrier to those from other countries unable to understand Darija.
Elsewhere in the school system, some refugees have difficulty navigating the language barrier.
Many Sub-Saharan refugees, like those from the Ivory Coast and Cameroon can speak French but not Arabic. Refugees lacking Arabic language skills cannot attend classes.
Another issue is employment. Jobs in urban areas can already be hard to find, and a language barrier can make this even more difficult. Refugees also count religious and racial discrimination amongst the difficulties they find when trying integrate into Moroccan society.
Despite the roadblocks, UNHCR protection chief Volker Türk has praised Morocco for its efforts.
On a visit to Rabat coinciding with the fourth anniversary of the NPIA, Türk spoke about how refugees can drive development.
“It is important to see refugees as an opportunity and a catalyst for change,” explained the UNHCR representative.