As many choose to stay in Morocco, it is time to listen to the migrants from sub-Saharan Africa who have decided to build their future in its capital.
Rabat – On May 16, 2003, Casablanca was the scene of a devastating terrorist attack which claimed the lives of 33 civilians. It was a wake-up call for the Moroccan government and meant a drastic overhaul of the national security policy. The government beefed up border patrol by 8,000 guards who no longer perceived sub-Saharan migrants en route to Europe with a laissez-faire attitude.
Now, the government deemed the migrants potential security threats.
A short two years later in 2005, hundreds of sub-Saharan migrants stormed the borders of Melilla and Ceuta, the Spanish enclave cities, in a coordinated effort using hand-made ladders and ropes.
Some hundreds managed to reach the enclaves safely, in the hope of successfully applying as asylum seekers in Europe. However, others faced dire consequences. Several migrants were shot, and both the Moroccan and Spanish border patrols repelled hundreds. The water-shed moment made world-wide headlines and resulted in the Moroccan and Spanish governments militarizing the borders of Ceuta and Melilla.
But the living conditions, lack of prospects, food shortages, and unstable political regimes in West and Central Africa proved to be too difficult to cope with for many, and the allure of a better life in Europe seemed to be worth dying for. That much became clear to the political leaders of the European Union, who grew more anxious about migratory flows from below the Sahara.
A second home?
Although the majority of African migration still takes place within Africa, the EU remains adamant in ensuring as few sub-Saharan migrants as possible reach Europe. By deploying both hard-and soft-power policies, the EU has steadily increased its cooperation with Morocco throughout the last two decades in order to achieve this.
On the one hand, Morocco serves as a cudgel to discourage sub-Saharan migrants from attempting to cross to Europe. On the other hand, the EU is providing funds for key civil society actors to ensure food, clothing, medical aid and for setting up educational projects to increase knowledge and skills among sub-Saharan migrants, thereby hoping they will eventually return home.
However, in the last couple of years a particular shift among a minority of sub-Saharan migrants has been noticed within society. Is it possible that migrants are increasingly regarding Morocco as a second home rather than a stepping stone?
The black peril
In the years following the storming of the borders of Melilla and Ceuta in 2005, public opinion has been growing hostile toward sub-Saharan migrants throughout Morocco.
In 2012, MarocHebdo published a feature with the ominous title “The Black Peril,” linking the arrival of sub-Saharan migrants to the spread of disease, drugs, and prostitution. In 2013, tensions reached new heights when a Moroccan attacked a Senegalese migrant, Ismaila Faye, stabbing him to death in Rabat. Faye’s death not only sparked outrage, but also a short-lived media campaign “My Name is Not Negro.”
In the same vein, after years of lobbying by civil society actors, King Mohammed VI took Morocco by surprise when he suddenly announced an overhaul of the national migration policy in the same year. The new migration policy set out to address the precarious living conditions of sub-Saharan migrants, a number of whom could now apply for residency permits.
The idea that Morocco is no longer merely a transit country for sub-Saharan migrants but also a country of destination, has more or less become part of international consensus. In 2017, Volker Turk, then assistant high commissioner for protection of the UNHCR, stated, “While Morocco remains a transit country for refugees and migrants, it is also fast becoming a country of destination.”
With prevailing media coverage often centered on migrant camps in the northern parts of Morocco such as Tangier, Melilla, Ceuta, Al Hoceima, and Nador, sub-Saharan migrants in Morocco seem only to exist in national consciousness in relation to reaching Europe.
Morocco World News wishes to take the debate further by listening to migrants from sub-Saharan Africa who have decided to build their future in its capital. Is Europe really no longer the long-cherished destination? Is Moroccan society a safe place for sub-Saharan migrants? Are Christian and Muslim migrants from sub-Saharan Africa treated differently?
How does a Guinean mother cope with having to leave her children and abusive husband? Does a Senegalese refugee who had to flee his country because of his homosexuality find a safe haven in Morocco?
In a new series of articles, MWN will tell the stories of sub-Saharan migrants in Morocco. From priests to prostitutes, from tailors to beggars, each one is among us but seldom heard.