Morocco should urgently come to the rescue of its citizens stranded abroad.
The Moroccan government must act quickly to repatriate Moroccans stranded overseas. After the government announced the extension of the state of emergency for an additional month, thousands across the country are wondering with great concern about the fate of more than 18,000 Moroccans stuck in Europe, Asia, and the Americas.
Will the government continue to ignore their fate as if they were foreigners, as if it were not its duty to pay attention to its citizens’ psychological and material ordeal and the suffering of their relatives in Morocco? What if a significant number of those Moroccans were to be infected with the virus while away from their country and loved ones, or if the health or psychological condition of those who traveled abroad for medical treatment worsened?
It is true that the government has been effective, proactive, and resilient in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, taking unprecedented steps to prevent its spread in the country and save the lives of thousands of Moroccans.
The government has also taken bold and drastic decisions to stem the spread of the coronavirus. When it came to choosing between the economy and people’s safety, Morocco gave precedence to protecting its people and avoiding an unprecedented catastrophe.
Morocco’s government subsequently imposed a nationwide lockdown and launched an unprecedented media campaign to raise awareness about the lethal nature of the virus and the need to abide by all safety measures.
The government also took a number of measures to mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19 on millions of Moroccans by providing stipends to workers in the formal and informal sectors. In addition, the government mobilized factories throughout the country to produce millions of masks, making the wearing of masks mandatory.
What has made millions of Moroccans especially proud of their country is the decision of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to cover accommodation costs for more than two thousand Moroccans stranded overseas at a time when big powers such as the US and the UK asked their citizens stranded in Morocco to cover their own return tickets.
However, the government’s silence about Moroccans stranded abroad since the suspension of international flights about a month ago is baffling. It is unfathomable that no government official has offered an explanation as to why Moroccans stranded abroad are unable to return home, or given any indication that the government is considering their situation and analyzing the actions needed to reunite them with their loved ones.
If the state was able, in a short time, to make courageous and drastic decisions that were met with applause and praise from many international media outlets, what has prevented it from effectively addressing the situation of Moroccans stranded abroad and taking the necessary measures to arrange repatriation flights?
In the first weeks of the epidemic in China, Morocco sent a plane to Wuhan to repatriate around 100 Moroccan students who had sought the help of King Mohammed VI to return home. At the time, Morocco was among a handful of countries that came to the rescue of their citizens fearing the spread of the virus in China.
Just as it addressed the situation of those students, the Moroccan government must do what is necessary to repatriate the more than 18,000 Moroccans who feel abandoned and left behind by their government at a critical time when their lives are at high risk.
Unlike the Moroccan students in Wuhan, these Moroccans are not longtime residents in the countries where they are stranded; rather, they traveled for tourism, work, or medical treatment. Many of them no longer have enough money to meet their needs, do not speak the language of the countries where they are stranded, or their visas have expired.
Others have seen their health conditions deteriorate as they have run out of the medicines needed to treat their illnesses, while parents have suddenly found themselves far from their children in Morocco.
If we were to put Moroccans stranded abroad and Moroccan students in Wuhan in the balance as to who deserves the government’s attention the most, the balance would tilt in favor of the first group. Moroccans who traveled abroad for a short period of time have both legal and financial limitations in terms of their visas, the amount of hard currency brought with them from Morocco, and accommodation.
Conversely, as the Moroccan students in Wuhan can be considered longtime residents in China, they had far fewer limitations in terms of visas, financial resources, and accommodation. Therefore, one could argue that the government was not necessarily obliged to repatriate them. Nevertheless, for human consideration and on the orders of the King, the government moved quickly to repatriate them and put them in quarantine for 14 days.
The silence and reluctance of the government to take the right decision to repatriate the 18,000 Moroccans currently stranded overseas is shocking. The fear that these people might carry the virus and exacerbate the infection rate in the country is understandable, and speaks to the government’s concern that the COVID-19 situation in Morocco could spiral out of control.
That being said, from a logistical standpoint, it is neither daunting nor impossible for the state to repatriate them and put them in quarantine for 14 days. There are many empty hotels in different regions of the country that the government can use to quarantine repatriated nationals and ensure they are not infected.
If Morocco cannot repatriate them all at once, the state should start the repatriation process gradually, giving priority to the elderly, those with vulnerable health conditions, and pregnant women. In addition, the government could also disperse them throughout the country depending on their geographical affiliations, which will help avoid overcrowding and pressure on one particular region.
The state does not only face a legal responsibility in accordance with the constitution and the international conventions and covenants to which Morocco is a party—it also faces a human and moral responsibility.
It would be counterintuitive and senseless for the government to continue overlooking the dire situation of these Moroccans, especially as we are less than ten days away from the holy month of Ramadan.
The Moroccan press should also pay attention to this group of Moroccans who suffer in silence and face the unknown.
Other Arab countries, such as Tunisia, Egypt, and Mauritania, have repatriated their citizens stranded abroad and Morocco should follow suit.
The Moroccan government must take into account that the psychological ordeal of Moroccans stranded abroad and their families will worsen as time passes.
Morocco must move quickly to redress the situation, or else its mishandling of the situation of Moroccans stranded abroad will leave a heavy stain on its overall response to the COVID-19 pandemic.