On paper, migrant health is guaranteed in Morocco. In reality, implementation presents a challenge.
After the Arab Spring in 2011, Morocco’s new constitution promoted ideals of equality and representation for all Moroccans. Although not written with the migrant community in mind, the preamble nevertheless promises “to ban and combat all discrimination whenever it encounters it, for reason of sex, or color, of beliefs, of culture, of social or regional origin, of language, of handicap or whatever personal circumstance that may be.”
Arguably a backbone to Morocco’s constitution, these ideals of anti-discrimination are reflected in migration rhetoric in King Mohammad VI’s speeches, the Rules and Procedures of Hospitals, Law 02-03 of the Penal Code, and numerous attempts to normalize trans-institutional relations that promote migrant health and community peace.
Adapting Morocco as a Migration Destination
In 2014, as civil war tore across Syria and horrible droughts debilitated much of the rural Sahel, King Mohammed VI made a decision: Morocco adapted its migration policy to be more inclusive towards the growing number of migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees. In a speech to the African Union in 2014, the King stated:
“Migration-related challenges require collective, balanced and — above all — humane responses… Morocco has recently adopted a new migration policy which is unprecedented in the region and which makes it possible for migrants to enjoy their legitimate rights in full.”
This “new migration policy” is a reference to a 2013 policy adopted in response to negative reports from the Anti-racist Group for the Defense and Accompaniment of Foreigners and Immigrants (GADEM), Doctors without Borders, and Human Rights Watch. The policy includes comprehensive new migration and asylum laws designed to better protect individual rights. It also includes a new anti-trafficking strategy and a regularization program that helps irregular migrants obtain residency permits.
After the speech to the African Union (AU), the King also announced the creation of the African Observatory for Migration and Development (OAMD), to be located in Rabat, in addition to the position of AU Special Envoy for Migration.
The Penal Code Legal Base
All of these legal guidelines and promises are based on a 2003 addition to the Moroccan penal code, Law 02-03. This document serves as the county’s primary immigration document, detailing how migrants should and should not seek official status within the country and outlining the legal guidelines and rights of all foreigners.
One of the most important issues discussed in Law 02-03 is the regularization of members of the migrant community. This process allows individuals to gain an official ID — which is necessary to access free healthcare in-country, education for children, and work permits.
By 2017, three years after King Mohammed VI’s speech to the African Union, Morocco had regularized around 50,000 migrants. Although this number is just a small percentage of the overall population of the migrant community, it is impossible to discount the progress.
As a partnership between the Moroccan government and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the new migration policy also encourages institutional affiliations. The UNHCR, which is the official regularization provider for Morocco, works with organizations like the International Office of Migration (IOM) and the Moroccan Association for Family Planning (AMPF) to ensure that refugees and migrants are able to find medical and educational resources.
Migrants who have not been regularized have a guarantee for medical attention under the 2011 Rules of Procedures of Hospitals: “Non-Moroccan patients, diseased or wounded, are admitted in hospitals, irrespective of their administrative situation under the same conditions as Moroccan patients.”
Room for Growth
Despite these legal procedures, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the National Council of Human Rights (CNDH) have each called for more transparent legal action to protect the migrant community’s access to healthcare.
In recent interviews I conducted with members of the migrant community, I repeatedly heard stories of frustration and confusion around the medical system. I also heard stories of regularization failures — with people lined up for hours to meet with UNHCR representatives, only to be turned away if they were unable to communicate in French or Arabic or if the UN worker was unavailable to process their claim.
These stories describe a system that, while effective on paper, fails to realize its potential to help those for whom it was written.
Despite this, I also heard stories of success. A majority of the members of the migrant community I spoke to described caring physicians and pharmacists who listened to their issues and treated them with respect.
A More Positive Future
When King Mohammad VI announced the creation of the OAMD in 2018, he repeatedly spoke to the importance of migration. He reminds the institutions, and the individuals, responsible for assisting migrants paths to regularization, that:
“Migration is a natural phenomenon which is part of the solution, not of the problem… we should adopt a positive stance on the issue of migration by highlighting the humanistic rationale of shared responsibility and solidarity.”
In light of these words, maintaining the health of the migrant community by allowing people to seek safe, affordable, and culturally-sensitive care remains one of the most important aspects of all migration policies. Morocco’s regularization campaign is no exception — though the country does need to make improvements in access to health services and access to the regularization processes.