Update from Tangier, with info about police raids, attempted crossings, the general treatment of refugees and migrants, and UNHCR procedures.
We were told that in the period before we arrived (just before the beginning of Ramadan), there had been a lot of police raids, at least once a week, but not for a few weeks since the beginning of Ramadan.. we joked that maybe the police were trying to be nice during the holy month, or maybe they simply lack the energy to go and raid places when they don´t eat and drink.
On Friday morning 19th July, there was a police raid in the house. Police knocked at the door at 7am, waking everyone up and pushing people outside. Whilst no-one enjoys being woken up at 7 in the morning, for the vast majority of the house who had only gone to sleep at 3am due to the Ramadan mid-night meal, this is a major blow both in terms of sleep deprivation and the fact that they will have to be awake for a full 12 hours until eating again. The police controlled all residents’ passports in the street outside the house. We (the two European activists) were controlled first, and told that we were “free to do whatever we want”, then police controlled the other documents. We were also questioned about why we were living there, who our contact was, how long we’d known him and how we’d met. It was difficult to know whether to refuse comment, as we would in the UK, or if it would be better for everyone in the house if we just took the easy route and co-operated, so we gave sparse answers. Everyone had either their passports or UNHCR refugee determination status papers, but around 10 people were arrested and brought to the police station nevertheless. They came with a big police van as well as two cars, showing they decided to arrest people before they controlled them. There were 10 police officers for a passport control of 30 people who had been controlled and taken to the police station numerous times before, and had been peacefully sleeping. People were made to wait in a big room with the Moroccan police officers for the so-called identity checks, not enough chairs, no food or drink offered, and there was quite a lot of shouting going on between Moroccan police and the migrants. No visitors were allowed (we tried lots of times!). People were released at 2pm (7 hours later), everyone was exhausted and frustrated. This kind of lengthy detainment happens regularly, and not only is it demoralizing, boring and unfair for the migrants but also ruins any chance of holding down a regular job.
People tried to strike several times in the week and a half we were there. The first time they got to the coast but immediately turned back (wasting driver fare but keeping hold of boat) because the king’s visit to Tangier meant there was too much police security to enter the boat. The second time the group was caught on Spanish water and brought back to Morocco. There was illegal behavior from the Moroccan police on the way back, as people were dropped off in groups of 2-3 persons in varying remote places, with the 2 or 3 women kept in the bus until last and told they would only be brought back to Tangier if they slept with the Moroccan policemen. They refused, were beaten and thrown out of the car in the middle of nowhere, had to walk to a nearby town, where luckily they managed to hitch back to Tangier.
There were also several successful strikes crossing the Melilla fence whilst we were there: a large group of about 100 Malians got over, whilst an assault by a group of Gambians was less successful. Police repression and violence in the forests near Nador increased afterwards.
We were told when we first arrived that there is a lot of racism towards black people in Tangier, and we experienced it pretty much as soon as we arrived. Within 10 minutes of having arrived at the bus station and having met people from the house we had stones thrown at us by Moroccan teenage boys. Some people don’t want to leave the house because they worry about being hassled, by police and residents of Tangier. The migrants are constantly being told to go to different cities such as Rabat or Casablanca because Tangier should be a place for Arabs and Europeans (tourists), not blacks. We experienced pretty consistent funny looks and abusive comments
Ebrima is STILL waiting for UNHCR refugee card (see update from April) – his next meeting was in Rabat on 24th July. He went, hoping that they wouldn’t cancel again and waste more of his money on transport. Luckily, the interview was not cancelled this time. He was given no information about the interview beforehand, and internet research hoping to find some UNHCR advice was a waste of time, because there are no useful advice documents, apart from very basic information. Procedures seem to differ from country to country between different UNHCR offices. Ebrima had a 30 minute conversation with them, where he was asked about the situation in his home country, and to provide evidence of the danger presented to him as a political refugee, which he managed to do by showing political songs and writing on the No Borders blog which he has written, which criticize the Gambian dictator, an offence which would get him killed if he returned. They seemed to like his commitment, energy and enthusiasm.. Not sure if it will last if they have a proper look at the website! Ebrima is now waiting for the UNHCR to reply with their decision, with no idea how long it will take.