“I have not stopped thinking about a possible life in Europe. But, sometimes friends of mine who have made the crossing will message me via social media and tell how difficult life can be. So even if I had reached Europe, there would be no assurance my life would be very different.”
Rabat – Four times. Four times Diallo had tried to cross the Strait of Gibraltar, and four times he was apprehended by the Spanish coast guard. Yet in no way did this make him and his friends any less adamant in trying to reach Spain for a fifth time.
Together they had fashioned some paddles, got their hands on a couple of life rings, and made a boat for everyone to fit in. But, during the fifth and last attempt, the boat got caught in a storm, and only Diallo survived.
“After my last time to try to cross to Spain, I gave up. It simply is too dangerous,” Diallo told me as he let his eyes glide over the clothes hanging on the walls of his recently opened boutique. As one of the estimated 40,000 irregular migrants in Morocco, most notably with a sub-Saharan background, Diallo has decided to sink his roots here, which he now considers to be his ‘second home.’
Though in the last two decades an increasing number of sub-Saharan migrants remain to regard Europe as their destination and subsequently succeeded in reaching the continent, the vast majority of migration in Africa is intercontinental, as echoed by the footsteps of Diallo’s travels.
“After leaving Guinea I moved to Côte d’Ivoire and tried to start my career from there. There I got in touch with what I thought was a sound financial partner, who unveiled a promising business plan in Cameroon. After coming to an agreement I traveled to Cameroon and initially managed to set up a boutique where I could display the clothing I was making. But before too long, the man vanished into thin air with almost all my money.”
Hoodwinked and left to his own devices, Diallo once more had to weigh his options.
“Initially I thought of returning to Guinea, but after my father died, his brother, my uncle, remarried my mother in order to safeguard the inheritance of the family. Ultimately this resulted in a lot of problems and made life very difficult for me. Thus, in 2017 I traveled to Morocco in order to try and reach Europe and hopefully one day open my boutique there.”
But reaching Europe proved out to be too difficult and too dangerous for Diallo, like many other sub-Saharan migrants who are being stopped by both Moroccan and Spanish border patrols en route to Europe.
Resorting to stay in Morocco, Diallo learned that life here as someone from sub-Saharan Africa sometimes means having to work twice as hard as a Moroccan. “I was really glad to get myself a job in a clothing manufacturer based in Casablanca. But, at the end of the day, I had to hand in 80 pieces of clothing, twice as much as the Moroccans I was working with.”
In the same breath, discrimination does not limit itself to the humid confinements of a clothing manufacturer. “There will be times where vendors will pretend they do not know you and will overcharge you for the goods they sell. Even though I am a regular customer. In other cases, you will encounter landlords who will only be willing to provide you with a room for a far higher price, or none at all.”
Diallo’s experiences are not singular, but part of more widespread mistreatment that sub-Saharan migrants in Morocco have to put up with. As part of their research, titled the ‘The Myth of Transit – Sub-Saharan Migration in Morocco’, Myriam Cherti and Peter Grant analyzed the position of sub-Saharan migrants in the urban centers of Morocco such as Rabat, Casablanca, Oujda, Tangier, and Laayoune, where the majority of sub-Saharan migrants have taken up residence.
According to their research, ingrained racism is prevalent throughout Moroccan society. Refusal of rental agreements by landlords, overcharged prices by vendors, denial to use public transport, ‘arbitrary’ frisking and violent mistreatment by police, and sometimes even deportation to remote areas or distant cities are experiences that sub-Saharan migrants are exposed to while living in Morocco.
Yet despite the hardships, Diallo’s story is not devoid of a silver lining.
“During my time at the clothing manufacturer in Casablanca I realized that if I wanted to make something of myself, I had to try and initiate something of my own. No one will carry water for you in this life,” Diallo said solemnly while looking at me.
“After Casablanca, I moved to Rabat, where I was able to work from the houses of a number of acquaintances and garner a steady flow of clients who seemed to like my particular style. After a couple of months, I made some inquiries in Al Manal, in the outskirts of the capital and brokered a reasonable rental agreement with the owner of the place we are sitting in now.”
Notwithstanding Diallo’s success as a self-made man, every now and then we all need a bit of luck. “After obtaining the rental agreement I approached a woman at Caritas who was willing to borrow me the sum of 400 MAD, with which I could buy a sewing machine. I was so grateful. Without that sewing machine, I would not have been able to begin all of this!”
Where some applauded and even envied Diallo’s initial success, others expressed their criticism.
“When I first opened my boutique there were some Moroccans who asked me how I got the rental agreement in the first place, how much I was paying and what I was planning to do. People often associate sub-Saharans to beg to earn their keep and I think they were not really accustomed to someone like me who does not need to do so.”
“Friends of mine who are also trying to build their future in Morocco often come to me for advice. Every month I need to have at least 2500 MAD to keep my head above water. I need to pay the rent and of course groceries. And if I want to get my hands on a particular piece of fabric I need to pay local suppliers too. In the beginning, I actually had to walk three hours in order to get the fabrics in Sale, but by befriending local suppliers I no longer have to do so.”
“You know I have not stopped thinking about a possible life in Europe. But, sometimes friends of mine who have made the crossing will message me via social media and tell how difficult life can be. So even if I had reached Europe, there would be no assurance my life would be very different. Life here is difficult too, but there are genuine opportunities to take advantage of.”
“There will be days where I will begin working early in the morning and realize at the end of the day, I haven’t eaten anything. Time passes when you are working and it is rewarding and captivating to mix Moroccan with Guinean styles. Some of the clothing you can see here hanging are popular among Guinean youth, but I wanted to make it appealing to Moroccans too. After all, we are in Morocco.”
This article is the first in the series of ‘Among Us, But Seldom Heard – Sub-Saharan Migrants in Morocco.’ If you wish to read the introduction, please click here.