Migrant associations represent the voices of people who have fallen through the gaps of the national coronavirus response.
There are over 700,000 members of the migrant and refugee community in Morocco, with many thousands living in the capital city of Rabat. Often in crowded homes and dependent on the revenue from daily labor, these communities are some of the hardest hit by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Though the government has offered access to free COVID-19 testing, many migrants are unable to travel to these testing sites because they lack proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and the means to travel. The lack of daily work means that, without money, PPE such as face masks cannot be purchased, leaving migrants and refugees stuck at home and unable to access their guaranteed healthcare.
During an interview with a migrant association leader Ibrahim (name changed), he told me that not only are there many people who are unable to afford PPE, but there have been reports of men in the community who police arrested for making and selling masks. One man allegedly received a two-month prison sentence for making masks at home and selling them to his neighbors.
In response to the difficulties of life under lockdown, migrant-run associations are working to provide food and representation for their community members. Partnering with local NGOs, these unions are filling the gaps left in the government’s policies.
Call for Change, Appeal to Humanity
In a document titled Mobilization Campaign: Humanitarian aid mobilization campaign to support migrants in this crisis situation of the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, one Rabat migrant association acts as a platform for the conglomerate of 17 different organizations. This document, and the people behind it, advocates for universal access to PPE, food for individuals in vulnerable situations, and easier access to healthcare.
The same document calls for public health messages to be broadcast in Arabic, French, Amazigh, and English to ensure that everyone, not just the migrant community, is able to receive important public health information.
One of the most important themes in the document is the call to put health over politics. Based on principles of humanitarianism and impartiality, the group asks that migrants are not seen through a political lens, but a human one.
Call for Change, Appeal to Politics
A second document, titled Advocacy on the Situation of Migrants and Asylum Seekers Since the Beginning of Containment in Morocco, by the same organization came in response to the economic and healthcare policies the government implemented after the first COVID-19 case emerged in the country.
The advocacy document highlights the positive policies that have affected the migrant community but also critiques the April 9, 2020 measure put forth by the Economic Watch Committee (EWC). The measure brings healthcare to households without the national RAMED, or healthcare, card. Although benefitting the 2 million households in Morocco, the newly instated provision included no mention of the situation of migrants and asylum seekers.
The organization argues that it is crucial to address the needs of migrants and asylum seekers because many are not beneficiaries of the RAMED card, “despite all the agreements and promises that have been kept to them.” The organization also argues that their community needs this provision because they contribute to the socio-economic growth of Morocco in the informal sector, and also, simply because they are human beings.
On the distribution of Exceptional Mobility Certificates- the documents required for all individuals in Morocco to leave their homes during the pandemic- the association reports that numerous migrants are being denied the ability to receive Certificates due to their administrative status. This complicates these individual’s abilities to access food, household products, and the free COVID-19 testing and healthcare guaranteed by the Kingdom.
The organization also claims that there have been numerous improper distributions of the Certificates, with authorities granting one certificate per apartment (which often houses 5 to 8 people).
Furthermore, the association reports that some migrant households are being threatened with foreclosure for their lack of monthly payments, without regard to their inability to pay during the pandemic.
A Message to the Economic Watch Committee
In conclusion to the two documents, the labor union asks the EWC to broaden its support for individuals with and without the RAMED card, Moroccan and migrant alike.
The organization also asks the EWC to set aside funds to maintain humanitarian and social assistance to migrants in an irregular administrative situation and seeking asylum, in addition to creating a moratorium on the payment of rent for migrants and asylum seekers who are unable to pay during the coronavirus pandemic.
The migrant association asks that, no matter what, women who are pregnant receive absolute and total care regardless of their legal residence, ability to pay, or their relationship to the RAMED medical care.
A Message to Authorities
During the pandemic, the association has a specific message for authorities: They are calling for the regularization of migrants and asylum seekers in an irregular administrative situation, the suspension of all deportations, arrests and detention practices for migrants and asylum seekers during compulsory confinement, and respect for fundamental labor rights of all working people on sick leave.
During my call with Ibrahim, I was struck by the sense of being “stuck” in place while the world revolved outside, much like many other people in the world right now. However, I was also struck by the resilience among the community he talked about ‒their drive to create change in their circumstances regardless of the obstacles.
For associations like Ibrahim’s, and the communities that they support, advocacy efforts to alleviate the social and economic obstacles regarding well-being must continue. In the context of a global pandemic, and in the context of a world just emerging from two months of isolation, these boundaries to health must be removed: Too many lives are at stake.