Moroccan embassies are the only entities every Moroccan can reach out to for help, but when circumstances cut this lifeline, the only thing they can do is pray.
Rabat – Moroccans stranded abroad due to COVID-19-induced border closures continue their battle in voicing their struggles to Moroccan authorities. Some have lost their money and their jobs, while others were left in the street.
The mobilization of consulates and embassies to ensure accommodation and food supplies was a big help for many. However, calls for help still mark social media.
Moroccans who could not take the last plane from their foreign location before the Moroccan government decided to postpone international flights to and from Morocco, in mid-March, found themselves as survivalists playing against the clock.
Even considering these stranded Moroccans’ limited financial resources, Morocco went on with its exclusionary closures, extending its air travel ban until at least May 31.
On the other hand, Morocco has facilitated the return of thousands of foreigners stuck within its borders in the almost two months since it suspended all flights in and out of the country, shut down maritime links with Europe, and closed its land borders.
Morocco’s action in repatriating foreigners received praise from countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands. In contrast to the European applause, the government is facing harsh criticism for its delay in facilitating the return of stranded Moroccans.
The testimonials of stranded Moroccans you are about to read may prompt the question: In the eyes of the government, how much do Moroccans matter?
In an interview with Morocco World News, Moroccan citizen Nadia, who is currently stranded in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, lamented the dire conditions in which she has been living, the ups and downs she endured in the Asian country since Morocco postponed international flights.
Nadia was in Egypt for a medical follow-up for her now-in-remission cancer, then flew back to Kuala Lumpur, looking for a job opportunity. The timing was not in her favor as she landed the day Morocco decided to ban international flights.
Acting on her constitutional right as a Moroccan citizen, the young woman contacted the Moroccan embassy in Kuala Lumpur. The embassy registered her name among the very first reported stranded Moroccans in Malaysia.
The embassy managed to put her and a group of other stranded Moroccans in a hotel, in which couples and single people had to share the same rooms.
When they finally accepted their fate and believed this was the best option possible, the embassy intervened again and transferred them to another hotel after only two days.
Among three other women, our protagonist Nadia had to carry her seven pieces of luggage on her own and go to the second hotel that the embassy chose for them. Nadia told MWN the second hotel is located in a dangerous neighborhood marked with robbery, prostitution, and a large number of COVID-19 infections.
The 22-year-old Moroccan had to spend three days in a dirty room, where she spent her nights coughing because of her bed’s dirty sheets. “They gave us food that doesn’t look or smell like food,” she said.
The young Moroccan woman had to stay in her dirty room for fear of catching the virus outside, and to avoid suffering from the heat and humidity.
The four women had to endure poor conditions in their cheap stay for three days before the embassy responded to their cry for help once again.
The next move was to book them another hotel that the embassy staff judged as better. However, the four women had to go out once again on their own, because the hotel “can’t mobilize a van for just four people.”
Hearing from the embassy representative that the check-in is at 9:30 a.m., the women managed to get to the third hotel with their heavy luggage at 9:50 a.m. Upon arrival, the manager told them that the check-in starts at noon, and the hotel manager had no intention of making an exception and sheltering the Moroccan citizens from the tropical heat of Kuala Lumpur, during the holy month of Ramadan.
“All communication with the embassy staff at that time was either by texting or through the hotel staff,” said Nadia. As if what she endured in the last week was not enough, the hotel manager surprised her by saying that her name was not on the hotel’s guest list.
“The hotel manager invited the three girls, showing them their rooms, as I was standing there, trying to figure out what was happening. He told me that I was on my own now, and asked me to leave the hotel, with no further explanation.”
After being left in the street with her seven pieces of luggage, Nadia had no shoulder to cry on. She opened Facebook and started telling groups about her story, seeking merciful hearts to help her find shelter.
Since the incident at this hotel, Nadia has failed to speak with the Moroccan embassy staff in Malaysia after several texts and attempted phone calls. Were it not for some local philanthropists who hosted her, ”I would have been sleeping in the street,” said Nadia.
28-year-old Khaoula, who had been working in the tourist sector in the Maldives for two years, took the initiative to speak on behalf of the 35 stranded Moroccans in the Indian Pacific country.
After Maldivian authorities closed borders to the rest of the world, only six resorts remained open in hopes of hosting stranded guests.
Khaoula told Morocco World News that her employers asked her and her fellow staff to go back to their countries until the pandemic is over, as they have no income and therefore no way to pay them.
“It doesn’t make any sense to keep more than 400 employees, with the strict measure of the lockdown in the Maldives, otherwise living conditions will be [a] disaster,” said Khaoula.
“All other nationalities have been repatriated including Algerians, Tunisians, Indians, Bengali, Taiwanese, Malaysians, Egyptians, Bhutanese, Thai, French and more, but not Moroccans,” according to Khaoula.
The 35 stranded Moroccans managed to contact the Moroccan embassy in India, since it is the nearest one. Their logistics and financial requests of moving to a better place, were met with refulsa given that they are “residents,” said Khaoula.
Living in uncertainty with very limited resources, Khaoula lamented her deplorable living conditions. “We are living our worst nightmare, as food is far from being edible. We only consume rice and pasta for every meal, and power cuts for five to six hours a day.”
Luckily for Khaoula and her compatriots, their employers stood on their side and managed to provide them with everything they could, from food to accomodation.
“We can’t blame our companies as they are doing their best to shelter us in these difficult times, thank God.”
Although we stranded Moroccans live on different islands and work in different resorts, the Maldivian lockdown here is “super strict” and allows no movement in between islands to see a doctor or purchase necessary items that islands lack. “Basically, we are isolated,” she said.
“I’m having severe asthma and a lung infection. Unfortunately, I am unable to see my doctor, and the embassy couldn’t help with that either.”
Seven days of peace and recreation is all Houda asked for when she decided to spend a week in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. The seven-day holiday turned into two months of sleepless nights.
Twenty-seven-year-old Houda arrived in the African country on March 13, two days before Morocco banned international flights. She had brought some Moroccan treats with her to a Moroccan family in Cote d’Ivoire, at the request of her family.
On May 15, like all Moroccans abroad, Houda was shocked by the bad news of the Moroccan airports’ closure.
Acting quickly, Houda called the Moroccan consulate to request further details. “I’ve been told not to worry, because although airports are [closed], Morocco will send planes before the holy month of Ramadan,” she told MWN.
“I stayed in the hotel, spending the rest of my holiday alone with my thoughts of fear, and uncertainty. Although it was out of my [hands], I felt like I’m running out of time, not knowing what to do, but wait.”
When Houda’s stay was over, she checked out of her hotel and had nowhere to go but to the Moroccan family for whom she had brought Ramadan treats. Full of shame and doubt, Houda had to call them and request shelter.
The young Moroccan took a bus to the city where her family friends live, 500 kilometers away from Abidjan.
“I avoided telling people that I was stranded alone, because anyone could take advantage of me. My whole stay had been and [is] still marked with doubt and anxiety,” said Houda.
At no time did Houda feel at peace, and sedatives became her nightly desert.
Every phone call to the consulate revealed a new date for repatriation, which they reported differently again and again during every call. “I’ve been told that we will be repatriated before Ramadan, then during Ramadan, then before Eid Al Fitr, I’m still here.”
Houda has spent two months so far with a family she barely knew upon moving in, and she is feeling like a burden, a heavy guest who is no longer welcome. Houda risks her life everyday eating outside, just to avoid her hosts’ looks as they gather around the table.
Cote d’Ivoire lifted its lockdown in mid-Ramadan, according to Houda.
“I’m being questioned daily by the family, if the consulate has some good news, meaning I should leave,” said Houda with a shaking voice. “I am so ashamed, I want to leave, but where?”
Yet, Houda said that she is grateful for what they are doing for her, because otherwise, she would be in the street.
When asked what she wishes for in light of these two months, Houda said: “I am ready to pay for my plane ticket, no matter the price, we only ask for the border to reopen.”
More than 32,000 Moroccans are stranded abroad, including tourists, students, professionals, and seasonal workers.
Until today, the only “update” that the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs offered regarding the issue is that ministerial departments are combining their efforts to repatriate Moroccans who are stranded abroad.
Moroccan embassies are the only entities every Moroccan can reach out to for help, but after circumstances cut this lifeline, the only thing many feel they can do is pray.