Unstable Housing- an ongoing problem for migrating people in Morocco

In recent weeks, there has been a lot less direct police interference of migrants in Tangier, ever since the death of Cédric, and the following riot, there has been some respite from raids.

But the ever present problem of unstable housing is as serious as ever.

Previously, the combination of police harassment and the lethal threat that posed, along with unstable housing and racism, were clearly the main contributors to deteriorating mental health, and factors that make their situation impossible.

Now, police harassment is less of a problem, and raids timed for the element of surprise have ceased for the moment.

But these raids was only one factor among many that made life difficult.

Daily racism directed at migrants from nearly all corners of Moroccan society is the largest factor to blame for the difficulty in finding stable housing.

Many migrants live in squatted apartments, some paying rent to fake landlords, staying in each house for little more than a few weeks at a time. The communal lifestyle means that an apartment rented cheaply is sufficient for up to twenty people to live together, yet keeping the same tenancy is almost impossible. Hostility from neighbours and landlords normally excludes migrants from renting legitimately.

Rent can be very cheap here, and simple homes do not need to cost a lot, and although finances are another challenge

For many Moroccans, having black skinned neighbours is enough reason to contact police, or to harass or attack migrants themselves.

We here have witnessed the racist mobs throwing stones and wielding lengths of wood to attack migrants. Also we have seen many scars left by migrant attacks, where people have been struck with stones or clubs on their heads, arms and legs. Migrants who have lived in Nador seem to all bear similar scars from the violence they experienced there.

Migrants homes in Tanger are usually kept for no more than a few weeks, lack either water or electricity, or are part built. At the same time few have secure front doors, often due to the previously frequent police raids.

The extra cost of moving house and being cheated out of rent paid, sometimes means migrants are going hungry, at a time when they face great challenges in their attempts to cross the border.

It seems that what needs to change here is the culture of racism, which explains why people cannot live in decent rooms and apartments and live as equals with their neighbours. So the problems here have no quick fix, no single issue that needs to be exposed, but a gradual and difficult fight towards equality and modern attitudes to ethnicity and culture.

More and more, young educated Moroccans can see as clear as day that this endemic racism is wrong and does not fit into the world they want to live in. So there is hope that things could improve, but for the time being, the pressure is never really off the migrants.

Many more bridges of direct solidarity need to be built between those in Europe and those in Africa that want a more equal world.

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Migrant dies in police raid

On the 10th of October 2013, another regular morning police raid was underway in a migrant house on the outskirts of Tangier. The police broke in through the front door and stormed through the building, waking everybody inside. The residents, being quite accustomed to this kind of treatment, took their time without panic.

Witnesses in the building claim that one resident, Musa Secky, was found in the bathroom washing his face before facing his authoritarian audience outside. The officer that found him told him that he should go downstairs now or he will beat him. Mr Secky replied that he would defend himself if the officer was to try to harm him, so the officer took it upon himself to start beating Mr Secky with his standard issue baton. Within a few seconds the brawl was over and sadly Mr Secky was dead. He had fallen from a fourth floor window and had died instantly. The witnesses had become afraid of the consequences when the fight had started so they began to leave, therefore were not sure exactly what had happened. The police claim that Mr Secky had jumped out of the window in a desperate attempt to escape. The residents on the other hand believe otherwise. Continue reading

3 Dead and 15 Wounded at Melilla Border Fence

Melilla is a city on the North coast of Morocco which is controlled by the Spanish government. It is surrounded by three parallel border fences over 10 miles long separating Moroccan from Spanish territory. This border fence is protected both by the Spanish and Moroccan military police, because since the 1996 Barcelona Agreement the Moroccan State has been paid by the EU to protect its external borders.

In mid-March 2013 over 100 people from different West African countries attempted to climb over the fences at the same time. The majority were from Cameron and Mali, with some Gambians and Senegalese. Crossing the border fence at Melilla is one of the few options they have for entering European Union territory to claim asylum or seek work and send money home to their families.

As they attempted to climb the fence the migrants were pelted with stones and beaten with sticks by Moroccan police. Some people were also injured as they fell from the fences, the first of which is 7 meters high. After the first fence there is another (4 metres high) then yet another marking the actual border to Spain. Despite these obstacles at least 55 of the migrants successfully made it into Spanish territory. Unfortunately the majority were not so lucky.

One Cameroonian man was killed during the attempt to cross and another died later in hospital. A third Cameroonian man was found dead on the mountainside on the way back from the hospital to his camp in the forest near the fences. Apart from the deaths of these three people from Cameroon many others of various different nationalities were seriously wounded. Continue reading

Deaths at Sea

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The main way that people cross the border from Morocco to Spain is by sea. There are many smugglers who make a living charging people hundreds of euros to cram into tiny, poor quality row boats, called “pateras”.

This way of crossing the sea to Morocco used to be mainly done over the Straits of Gibraltar, which is only 14 kilometres wide at some points, over quite calm seas. The idea of rowing that distance in a poor quality boat is perhaps not that bad, the only danger being getting noticed by boat patrols working for Frontex or the Spanish border police. Many migrants die crossing even this short distance, however, due to poor quality, overcrowded boats and lack of life-jackets.

People would also often row from the coast of Western Sahara, which is under Moroccan military occupation and so has an open border to Morocco, to the Canary Islands, which are under the control of Spain. Once migrants are in the Canary Islands they can apply for asylum and are then allowed to travel to mainland Spain.

Now however, in both the Straits of Gibraltar and the sea around the Canary Islands, Frontex has built the S.I.V.E. radar system which is sophisticated enough to detect a human heartbeat from a distance. This means that row boats, which wouldn’t show up on a normal radar because they are so small and made of wood, can now be detected, and the Frontex/Spanish police boats can go and apprehend them.

In 2005 after the mass stormings of the border fences at Ceuta and Melilla, the EU responded by pumping millions of Euros into border control measures, in ways which dramatically changed the routes that these boats bringing migrants took.

Firstly, Frontex launched the “Hera II” mission in the seas near the Canary Islands, making it even harder for boats to reach the Canaries from Western Sahara than it already was. Migrants and people smugglers responded by moving further south, into Mauritania, to launch their boats, bypassing the area between Western Sahara and the Canaries, where Hera II was operating.

Hot on their heals, the EU quickly made a deal with the Mauritanian government, offering them millions of Euros in development aid in exchange for repatriation agreements. This agreement allowed Frontex to dump any migrants found at Sea onto Mauritanian soil, so that the EU no longer had to go through the lengthy process of sending back to where they were actually from, speeding up the process of patrolling the sea and catching migrants. Mauritanian security forces also stepped up efforts to repress migrants in their territory.

This meant that migrants and people smugglers had to drastically change routes again, starting from Senegal, which is where the biggest group of migrants passing through Morocco are from in the first place. The boat crossing from Mauritania to the Canaries was already hundreds of miles further than from Western Sahara, now these small wooden row boats were having to travel thousands of miles through treacherous ocean waves. All these changes took place within two months, in September and October of 2005.

This sequence of events only goes to show how the EU’s expensive border control policies, involving both direct force in its own territories and foreign policy deals with non-EU states, only makes migration into the EU more dangerous and deadly for migrants. These policies will never actually stop migration. The economic incentives to come to Europe to work are simply too strong for people coming from countries devastated by centuries of colonial and neo-colonial exploitation by European and other Northern powers. The shame of returning home as a failure to your family after they have spent everything they have to pay for you to travel to Europe is also far too great for most migrants to face up to.

Sole Survivor of Tragic Sea Crossing Blames Police for Deaths of Migrants

On the night of Sunday the 28th October 2012 at least 14 people drowned in the Straits of Gibraltar between Tangiers, Morocco and Tarifa, Spain. They were Sub-Saharan Africans from various West African countries including Senegal and the Ivory Coast, including refugees registered with the UNHCR.

According to an Ivorian man who claimed to be the only survivor of the incident, three boats left that night from the forest outside Tangiers. All three boats had already passed the borderline markers in the sea when they began to sink, most likely due to excess weight. Legally, since the boats were in Spanish territory, the migrants should have been dealt with by Spanish Border Patrol and any survivors taken back to Spain where they could apply for Asylum. However, all three boats were in fact dealt with by Moroccan police, who chased them across the border, outside their actual jurisdiction, allegedly without informing the Spanish police of the deaths of migrants.

The migrants were in “Zodiac” inflatable dinghies designed to carry a maximum of 300kg, or four people of average weight. The high cost of these boats in Morocco, combined with the extreme police harassment, institutional racism and financial strain Sub-Saharan migrants face in Morocco cause many to risk overloading them to save time and money.

One boat carried 6 people of which 4 were caught by Moroccan police and brought back to Tangiers. The other two chose to jump into the sea rather than be caught by the Moroccans, because, in the words of the Ivorian survivor: “they already crossed the border, and its like they don’t like to come back to Morocco. That’s why they jump to the water. So either they survive or die, but they don’t want to come back to Morocco.” These two are believed to have been eventually picked up by Spanish authorities and taken to Spain.

The other two boats each contained 8 people, at least double the recommended weight. Despite the boats captains contacting friends in Tangier who in turn informed the Spanish Police that there were boats sinking and lives at risk, the Spanish police disregarded the information.

One of the boats contained a woman carrying her baby child. There are rumours that she somehow survived and made it to Spain, but our source, the sole survivor, did not see her get rescued. She was on a different boat to him, and he is certain that he was the only survivor of the boat he was on.

He says that the Moroccan police passively watched him struggling in the water for between 30-40 minutes before throwing him a rope, despite the fact that they are supposed to have two trained divers on board each of their boats. When he informed them that there were other bodies in the water he said they did nothing. “It was like they just didn’t care” he said.

When he was taken back to Tangiers they detained him for 18 hours at the central police station. They did not give him access to any medical or psychological care, a phone call or food other than two sandwiches during this time. Despite his complaints that he was extremely tired and traumatised they did not even let him rest, instead taking him from office to office the whole time he was detained.

The survivor, who wishes to remain anonymous, is officially a refugee, registered with the UNHCR in Mauritania where he was forced to move after leaving his native Ivory Coast due to Civil War. He said he had only wanted to stay in Spain enough time to be able to buy various materials he needed for his business in Mauritania but which were much cheaper in Spain.

He maintains that if the Moroccan police had communicated with the Spanish authorities more fully, rather than unlawfully entering Spanish Territory as they did, lives would have been saved. This incident seriously calls into question the EU’s funding of Moroccan border police, who are widely regarded as corrupt, with no respect for the basic human rights of Migrants.

Since the 1995 Barcelona Agreement Moroccan authorities have been assisting the EU in protecting it’s external borders in exchange for funding and promises of economic integration. Moroccan police are paid 1500 euros for every migrant they arrest, supposedly to pay for the costs of deportation back to their home countries, and for the cost of keeping them in an adequate condition of life during detention. However, migrants widely report that the Moroccan police routinely detain them in extremely poor conditions, without adequate food, medical care or sleeping conditions. Many migrants claim the Moroccan police simply wait until the EU pays them, before releasing the migrants back onto the streets or illegally deporting them to Algeria. The Moroccan police are accused of pocketing the money from the EU, as individuals, raising questions about whether the EU should continue funding these corrupt practices.

Migrants here clearly blame the racism and corruption of the Police, and the difficulties they experience in Morocco as migrants, for the deaths at sea, of which this incident is only the most recent example.

The full transcript of the interview is can be found here: beatingborders.wordpress.com

Contact nobordersmorocco@riseup.net for more information.