In The Same Boat Morocco: Part II

Publication Date: 
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
Artist INTI’s mural in Rabat depicts the importance of Morocco to many Sub-Saharan migrants. Photo Courtesy of Juliette Keeley

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.

Migrant Mafias: Trafficking in Morocco - Dan Cnossen

Simultaneously dispatching her assistant on errands, monitoring and scolding children running awry, attending to her buzzing mobile phone and answering the questions of 16 Harvard researchers, Fatima Outaleb was an inspiration to meet. The founding director of Morocco’s first shelter for abused women – the UAF foundation – she offered fascinating insights to our investigation on migration.

From our interviews so far, a contradiction has arisen regarding whether Morocco is a country of transit or destination for migrants. From Fatima’s experience though, the migrant women she shelters all have one goal: Europe. In their eyes it is north of the Mediterranean where the hope of a better life for their children lies. Caring for her family of abused or vulnerable women – limited by funding to 15 – Fatima hears and sees the realities of migration. Most of the women she cares for have been trafficked; many were raped; some bore the children of their rapists. Arriving on her doorstep, they are welcomed with open arms. A number are Moroccan, often victims of trafficking to Gulf states – a side to Moroccan migration that few in our team had considered. In Fatima’s opinion, the “migrant mafias” are the real source of the problem – the networks which smuggle people across countries, and to which victims are indebted.

One can only hope that Fatima’s courageous willingness to step forward to care for the weak and oppressed will inspire other citizens to do the same. This would fill a critical gap in available care in Morocco and serve to represent the best of the welcoming Islamic tradition of which Moroccans are so rightfully proud.

The Long Road to Asylum - Stephanie Garbern

Asylum-seekers from Syria, as well as from countries in Sub-Saharan Africa like Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mali, face many barriers to asylum in Morocco. Today, we met with the director and legal staff from L’association Droit et Justice (Association of Law and Justice), a Moroccan non-governmental organization dedicated to promoting the rule of law and providing legal assistance to vulnerable populations in the country including refugees.

The lack of a law on asylum complicates the granting of refugee status in Morocco, even though the government did sign the Geneva Convention of 1951 relating to the status of refugees. Consequently, the government has an obligation to protect those that the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees considers vulnerable. In practice this doesn’t happen. Having set up their ad hoc commission to vet UNHCR refugees for eligibility – a move that the UN agency has backed as a sign of the government shouldering its responsibility – the Moroccan government is able to manage its refugee influx according to its own criteria. In recent years, Morocco has refused to accept all of those designated as refugees by UNHCR. The reason why is still unclear.

Regardless, a confirmation on the status to be given to those Syrians accepted as refugees is as yet undecided, leaving them in bureaucratic limbo, with access to education but banned from working. However with 80% of Morocco’s economy in the informal sector, these refugees have ample access to the work that they need to feed their families. Behind its administrative fortress of paper screens, the government seems happy to turn a blind eye.

A bill on asylum has now been in parliament for over two years although it is unclear when, or if, the law will be passed, adding to the confusion regarding Syrian refugee status in the country. Additionally, people fleeing conflict rarely possess the knowledge of host nations’ bureaucratic systems to even apply for asylum. This which is where local NGOs such as L’association Droit et Justice are critical in assisting people with navigating such systems.

Without them, few would care for these most vulnerable populations.

Looking Beyond the Horizon - Joseph Ataman

Europe likes to be the centre of attention.

This summer, rubber dinghies streaming across the Med, their passengers packed aboard like livestock, filled Europe’s front pages. All that Europeans saw was the waves of desperate humans beaching on its shores. Little thought was paid to where they had come from. Few eyes looked beyond the shores of the Mediterranean.

Morocco has never had the luxury of such ignorance.

A North African country of transit for the tens of thousands of people heading North each year, Morocco is keenly aware of where they come from. While most of Europe’s refugees this year are Syrian, the majority that Morocco sees are from Sub-Saharan Africa.

As a result, Morocco’s internal policy on migration is inextricably linked to its relations with regional governments. Rabat’s African ties have long been difficult, mainly due to its stubbornness to reconsider its sovereignty over the provinces claimed by the Polisario as the independent state of Western Sahara. As a result, Morocco remains excluded from the African Union – the continent’s foremost political body – and has long been something of an ‘island nation’ bordered by the desert, the ocean, and unfriendly neighbours.

King Mohammad VI has sought to overturn this. Aided by the void left by the fall of Libya’s eccentric dictator Muammar Gaddafi, he has made improving Morocco’s regional standing a priority. Lacking Libya’s oil reserves with which to lavish investment on the African continent, the management of Morocco’s migration flows from West Africa has become a key international bargaining chip.

The ICRC told us they now view Morocco as a key regional influencer – a fact that played no small part in their decision to press the government for permission to open a headquarters in Rabat. For a Moroccan government keen to maintain this position, image is everything. Headlines of police abuse against economic migrants, racism against refugees and asylum-seekers trapped in bureaucratic limbo are a costly threat to Morocco’s regional status. With most migrants across its borders headed to Europe anyway – and these concentrated around the Spanish enclaves along the Mediterranean coast – Morocco’s national policy response to migration seems to only occasionally go beyond sitting back and watching. Intervention is a risky, and costly, business.

Europe has its ideas on how Morocco should manage its migration. But Morocco might just have their own.

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