As part of the so-called European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), the EU and its member states fund surrounding countries to control their borders and effectively prevent migrants from reaching European territory. As an ‘Advanced Partner’ in the ENP, Morocco is complicit in creating a buffer zone externalising the EU’s inhumane border regime to Northern Africa. To gain advanced status, Morocco signed a so-called ‘Mobility Partnership‘ including readmission negotiations, and receives ‘assistance in implementing the strategy to combat illegal migration’ (EU/Morocco Action Plan, §48) from the EU. The large-scale detention and deportations of Sub-Saharan migrants in Morocco show what this combat looks like in practice. On 9th February 2015, the Moroccan interior ministry announced its plan to completely evacuate the migrant camps in the forests surrounding the Spanish enclaves Ceuta and Melilla. On 10th February, Moroccan authorities started the destruction of camps and arrested over 1000 migrants who had been living in the mountain Gurugu forests (for more detail, see Update I). On 13th February, the raids and arrests continued in several forests around Nador. Most migrants were taken to a camp in Kariat Arekmane for identification procedures and subsequently distributed to different makeshift camps and holding facilities across Morocco (for more detail, see Update II). This is a third update to follow-up on the previous blogposts.
Situation in the forests camps around Melilla
There have been no further large-scale raids and arrests, mainly because there is almost nothing left to destroy and almost no-one left to arrest. Nevertheless, the few remaining migrants are subject to constant police threats. People have to stay away from what is left of the camps to escape potential police interventions. In Gurugu, Moroccan police and military are constantly present, forcing migrants to hide in the forests or to try to survive in the cities. In Bolingo, the authorities attempted to arrest people on 18th February, but everyone managed to escape. Some of the women and minors released from Kariat Arekmane have returned to the forest camps. With most of the living arrangements destroyed, levels of intimidation remaining high, rain and cold, the situation has deteriorated from worse to worst. Despite these circumstances, around over 100 people attacked the Melilla fences on 19th February. About 70 were arrested on the Moroccan side, and 16 migrants pushed-back illegally, but 30 overcame the fences and are now in the CETI in Melilla. Once again, this shows that the rationale for the inhumane repression of migrants at Europe’s borders fails in its own logic: the large-scale deportation and detention of migrants does not deter migrants from crossing the borders selectively enforced against them. Boza!
Situation in the detention facilities across Morocco
The 1200 migrants arrested in the forest raids are still being arbitrarily detained and deprived of their liberty in different improvised facilities in Southern Morocco. The high number of detention places makes it almost impossible to trace the actions of the Moroccan authorities. Some of the identified detention facilities are an agricultural centre in Chichaoua, a visitor centre of the Youth and Sport Ministry in El Jadida, a student house in Tiznit and a caring centre in Youssoufia, and more. The detained migrants are subjected to surveillance and deprived of their liberty without judicial oversight, and fulfilment of basic needs is arbitrary, as some facilities provide adequate food and medication whereas others do not attend to the medical needs of those wounded during the confrontations. The situation in Essaouira is particularly bad. The centre holds 63 detainees, many from Guinea, around 8 of them minors, all surrounded by military. 3 detainees were wounded during an attempt to escape. They are kept in rooms without windows and do not receive adequate food. The detainees were asked to sign documents without being given time to read them, and people are left in limbo not knowing what is going to happen to them. Visits by friends, activists and NGOs to some of the identified detention places were denied, as the Moroccan authorities are trying to hide how they are systematically breaking their own and international laws. In the official rhetoric, the ‘evacuations’ have the purpose to ‘place migrants in Moroccan support structures’ and offer an ‘opportunity for migrants to integrate into the Moroccan social fabric’. How migrants are supposed to integrate when they are treated like criminals and prevented from leaving the detention camps is a question left unanswered. And even if there were effective possibilities for Sub-Saharan migrants in Morocco, the official rationale of ‘integration’ completely ignores the fact that the people who were forcefully taken from the forest camps around Melilla are there for the opposite reason – to leave Morocco and reach Europe. Destruction and detention does not ‘help’ the migrants, it helps the EU to fortify its external borders.
Arrests and charges
12 migrants were arrested during the Gurugu raid on 10th February and taken to the police commissariat in Nador, 9 from Cameroon and 3 from Nigeria. The authorities charged them with assassination, trafficking and drug abuse. Their continued detention is illegal under Moroccan law, which is limited to 24 hours in police custody, unless a judicial order is granted extending it to a maximum of 48 hours. On 16th February, 9 were taken from police custody to Kariat Arekmane and then transferred to Agadir, but the 3 remaining people continue to be imprisoned under trafficking accusations, and threatened with continued imprisonment or deportation.
Continuing threat of imminent deportations
On 18th February, the Moroccan interior ministry released a statement saying that they intended to dismantle all the forests camps but not to expulse Sub-Saharan migrants from Morocco into their countries of origin. This is contradicted by testimonies from the detained migrants. Two buses with around 100 migrants were sent to and rejected at the Mauritanian border, forcing the bus to return to Dakhla (Southern Morocco). Mauritania is the transit country to Senegal and Mali, both of which have reportedly agreed to deportations. Authorities in Nador met with embassy representatives to induce them to cooperate in large-scale deportations. Detention guards in Essaouira announced that embassy representatives would come to visit. The embassies have taken photos and details of migrants and asked who is willing to return to their country of origin. Detained migrants in Marrakesh report that they are given two options: either sign a document agreeing to their deportation or enter a regularisation process in Morocco. Detained migrants in Essaouira, Goulmima and other camps report being asked to sign documents without translation or time to read them. People continue to hover in uncertainty and under the constant threat of deportation.
The regularisation programme in Morocco
In 2014, Morocco offered a regularisation programme for some irregular migrants, especially women and children. Without giving any indications on what will happen to pending cases or allowing time for appeals, the interior ministry has now announced the end of the regularisation programme, and started raiding the forest camps only a day afterwards. This exposes the allegedly benevolent regularisation as the other side of the coin of a stricter and more brutal border regime. Migrants were arrested whether or not they have been regularised, showing that a residence permit on paper makes no practical difference to the state-sanctioned discrimination against Sub-Saharan migrants. This is consistent with previous police behaviour during city raids, where migrants are arrested whether or not they have UNHCR papers proving their asylum-seeker or refugee status. It is dubitable whether regularisation achieves anything but making it easier for the state to control clandestine migrants slipping through their surveillance network.
The inhumane and degrading treatment of migrants at the external(ised) border of the European Union exposes what is behind the human rights façade – a racist and unequal war waged against undesired migrants until they die or accept ‘voluntary’ return.
STOP THE WAR AGAINST MIGRANTS!
FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT FOR ALL!
Press releases from migrant and human rights organisations in Morocco: