Tangiers: Police Corruption by Day, Racist Violence by Night

At around 6am on the 11th of March 2013 three drunk Moroccan youths stormed into a house occupied by Black Sub-saharan African migrants, mostly from Senegal, in Hawma Chouk, a poor working class neighbourhood on the eastern edge of Tangiers.

The three Moroccan youths were all armed with knives and when they were asked to leave the house they immediately stabbed two migrants. A fight ensued to get the attackers out of the house, which was successful, but the youths proceeded to throw stones at the house for another 3 hours, breaking all the windows.

Nobody from the local, predominantly Moroccan neighbourhood called the police. The three youths were part of a gang that had been harassing the occupants of the house for over a year and had even previously set fire to one of the rooms. The fire was set, according to the occupants of the house, because there had been Christian Nigerian migrants living there.

Yet the gang continued to hang around the entrance to the house every day for months, with no one from the local community coming to the migrant’s aid despite the obvious racial and religious hatred behind the attacks. Several children were living in the room at the time it was set on fire.

The two migrants stabbed on the morning of the 11th of March went straight to a local police station, still visibly bleeding from their wounds. The first thing the police asked after having heard the story of the attack was to see their identity documents. This is an example of the routine disrespect with which Black migrants in Morocco are treated by the police, who are trained to regard them primarily as potential “illegal immigrants” to arrest even when they are coming to police for help as victims of racist aggression.

Before the police would even begin a preliminary investigation they insisted on the bureaucratic formality of having four photocopies of a doctor’s report, despite the fact that the migrant’s wounds were clearly visible and their clothes soaked with blood.

They got to Mohammed V hospital in Tangiers before 8 am, and were seen to relatively quickly, but in order to get the report they had to wait there in the hospital for more than four hours longer, being shuffled from one room to another. The report itself cost 100dh each (around 10 Euros) and when they asked that this be waived due to their circumstances they were refused.

Finally they were able to go to another police station, arriving at around 3pm still not having slept from the night before. They were first ignored by the police for almost an hour until finally they were able to explain what happened, again having their identity documents checked.

The police promised to investigate, but as the migrants were leaving they received word that the Moroccan youths had returned to the house and were throwing stones again. The police were told and asked to accompany them back to the house and apprehend the youths but they did not respond until a white European friend of the migrants made the request again. This differential treatment of people dependent on skin colour and presumed national origin is also normal for the police of Tangiers.

The Police eventually sent a car to the house and arrested one of the Moroccans. The migrants pressed charges as did the owner of the building, a Moroccan citizen. The police promised that the case would be taken to court, but the next day they were urging the migrants and their landlord to reconsider and resolve the matter personally instead.

The migrants had only gone to the police in the first place because they saw no other option to change the youths’ behaviour. It was clear they felt immune to any repercussions from the police or their own community for their multiple, very visible acts of racist violence. The migrants themselves could not respond with violence in kind, despite outnumbering the youths three to one, because any act of violence on their part would surely by used by police as an excuse to deport them.

Police in Tangiers seem to consider unprovoked racist aggression – to the point of breaking into Black people’s houses, stabbing them and smashing all their windows – to be the kind of thing that neighbours can just sort out between themselves without the police or court system needing to be involved. Either that or they were simply paid off by the racist Moroccan youths themselves. This is what the migrant’s landlord believed had happened, a man who had lived in this police precinct for decades.

Either way the whole incident speaks to the fact that Black migrants clearly cannot feel protected against racist aggression from the general public by the police or court system of Morocco. Many migrants feel they have no choice but to arm themselves to guarantee their personal safety but this cannot be a solution for everyone and crimes against migrants will continue to go unpunished. This is particularly worrying considering that female migrants are already extremely vulnerable to sexual assault and rape due the precarity of their situation.

We should not be surprised that a police force that is making millions of euros a year from the EU to arrest migrants in Morocco and which human rights groups have widely condemned for their abusive treatments of detained migrants such as routinely abandoning them in the desert at the Algerian border at Oujda, should not take their duty to protect migrants from criminals seriously.

The King of Morocco asks of his people that they see him as a father figure but by cooperating with the racist border policies of the European Union he is setting a poor example for his “Children”, despite his promises to bring Morocco in line with international human rights standards. Part of the money given by the EU to Morocco to protect it’s borders is supposedly being used to develop Moroccan state institutions ability to ensure human rights are protected.

Until we see evidence that this is actually happening we must consider the EU to be knowingly funding human rights abuses in Morocco, and allowing racist social dynamics in Moroccan society to remain unchallenged as a result. For the time being migrants are in need of direct solidarity on the streets from Moroccans and foreigners from richer countries in order to guarantee their personal safety, and prevent an escalation of racially motivated violence. The international community, including artists, individuals and non-governmental organisations should also step up efforts to support the growth of an anti-racist consciousness amongst Moroccan youth.

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