In The Same Boat Morocco: Part I

Publication Date: 
Saturday, January 16, 2016

Over the course of January 2016, a Harvard University Field Study is investigating migration into and out of Morocco, how the country has managed its migration and what lessons the EU and other states can learn from Morocco’s considerable experience in this field.

Why Morocco?

Looking at Morocco’s experience of migration may hold the answer to the question we need to be asking: what next for migration in Europe.

Our goal is to assess the processes through which Moroccan society receives and assimilates migrant workers and affords protection to refugees. These can serve as a legal, moral and cultural example to societies in Europe facing similar dilemmas.

Due to its geographical proximity to Europe, Morocco is a transit zone for migrants wanting to reach Europe but it’s also an important case study on migration – especially from sub-Saharan Africa – in its own right. A traditional ally of the West, a Muslim country with a monarchy and one of Africa’s richer states, which has attracted many different kinds of migrants for decades, Morocco’s migrant policy can offer a fresh lens through which to view the refugee crisis in Europe, highlighting policies to be emulated and others to be avoided.
With migrant inflows from sub-Saharan Africa consuming and contributing to common facilities in the predominantly Arab communities and public spaces of Morocco, the ethnic visibility of the country’s residents is likely to be especially important to our project. We are keen to explore how the unignorable presence of migrants in the daily lives of Moroccans affects intercommunal relations and tensions – that ultimately influence government policy – compared to the arrival of fellow Arab Syrian refugees. This may have particular relevance to the changes in ethnic makeup in Europe that the refugee influx will undoubtedly induce.

Spatial Speak: The Role of Geography in the Moroccan Migration Experience - by Argyro Nicolaou

Geography played a central role in the conversations we had with students from the Hassan II University in Mohammedia yesterday. Consistently referring to its proximity to Europe, students described Morocco as a ‘strategic partner’ of the EU; the ‘police of Europe’ when it comes to migration control; the ‘door to Africa’ for Europe and the ‘gateway to Europe’ – ‘la porte de l’Afrique vers l’Europe’ – for sub-Saharan and other migrants looking for a better life.

These catchphrases all seem to have a common denominator: the desire to reinforce the perception of Morocco as a space of connection, a bridge between the African and European continent; a self-ascribed political and strategic role predicated on geographical facts. What was interesting was that the same description also served to trump geographically-determined, insular conceptions of territory and politics, especially when it came to the delimitation of ‘Europe’ and ‘Africa’.

The movement of migrants both confirms and undermines the potency of geographical borders and the accompanying cultural and political definitions of nation states. This might also be why many of our Moroccan colleagues expressed both disappointment in the EU for its lack of sufficient support vis-a-vis Morocco’s migration policy and an undeniable allegiance to Western powers like the EU and the US when it comes to issues of migration.

The Gatekeeper State - by Emily Franchett

A necessary component of understanding migration in Morocco is the deconstruction of the current relationship between Morocco and the European Union. In our initial conversations with Moroccan counterparts, one recurring image is that of Morocco as “the gatekeeper” between Africa and Europe. Regulations by the Moroccan government limit migration to the EU, and the expectation is that the EU will compensate Morocco in return.

In this “gatekeeper” relationship, Morocco is seen as a destination country for migrants; however, there is still substantial emigration of Moroccans to the EU as well. Moroccan students we talked to described how reformed migration policies have stabilized migration and encouraged migrants to “believe their dreams can take place in Africa,” while also purporting that there may be better employment and opportunity for Moroccans in the EU.

Understanding these dynamics will be a continued point of focus in our research over the next few weeks.  

Sex and Status in Migration - by Johannes Laepple

Late last week the #InTheSameBoat team left Casablanca to meet the International Organization for Migration (IOM) at their office in Rabat. After its foundation in 1951, the IOM worked as something of a travel agency for migrants. 65 years later, the IOM has become an organization of 162 Member States, dealing with a broad range of migration issues, from resettlement assistance to advising governments on sustainable migration policies and the fight against human trafficking.

The IOM Office in Rabat is frequently approached by mostly unregistered migrants without passports who wish to return to their home countries. Cooperating closely with diplomatic missions and the Moroccan Ministry of the Interior, the IOM assists these migrants in leaving Morocco and supports their reintegration efforts upon their arrival in the home states.

The IOM confirmed what we had already heard at other meetings before: more and more migrants are choosing to stay in Morocco and apply for official status, enabling them to gain access to the official labor market and to the same social services available to Moroccans, including access to health care and education.

The meeting was also attended by representatives from Morocco’s civil society, notably the Association de Lutte Contre le Sida (ALCS)  [The Association of the Fight against AIDS] as well as the Council on Sub-Saharan Migrants in Morocco. The ALCS works on HIV prevention and provides support for victims of sexual violence. According to ALCS, immigrants are an at-risk group for sexually transmitted diseases, but not more so than many other groups already present in Moroccan society. Nevertheless, migrants are still often singled out and stigmatized around the issue of HIV.

The Council on Sub-Saharan Migrants in Morocco was founded in reaction to the death of 14 refugees in 2005, who tried to climb the fences in order to reach European territory in the Spanish exclave Ceuta. The organization helps migrants to connect with labor unions, to access to emergency shelters and by providing support with the paperwork necessary for the regularization process. The Council’s President, Mr. Ibanda Mola – himself a migrant – explained how migrants can become problematic for society if they do not get the help that they need. Mr. Mola encourages migrants to regularize in Morocco, but also emphasized how migrants have an obligation to be respectful to Moroccan culture, particularly with regard to local religious traditions like fasting during Ramadan.


ramble's picture

But, Morocco doesn't have to deal with issues of whiteness

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