South-South Radicalisation: Is Morocco a racist state?
Hicham Houdaïfa - 09/09/2008
Casablanca. Place Mohammed V. The terrace of the Don Quichotte bar is one of the favourite meeting places among the Sub-Saharan migrants that dwell in the city. Most of these people coming from Senegal and Mali, but also from Nigeria and Guinea, occupy the abandoned houses of the Medina. Others live in the outskirts of the country’s economical capital: Oulfa, Hay Mohammadi or Sidi Bernoussi. “There are two types of African: French-speaking Muslims and English-speaking Christians. There’s an almost perfect harmony with the former while there is total incomprehension with the latter”, explains Chouaïb, who works at the bar. The remarks of this Casablancan sum up the existing relationship between the Moroccan population and the Sub-Saharan community, which in the last years has become increasingly visible. The community includes students, businessmen, but also asylum-seekers and thousands of people that have travelled hundreds of kilometres to reach Morocco, the last step before Europe, the Eldorado they dream so much of. “We cannot speak of institutional racism in Morocco. I would rather refer to it as a primary, cultural racism. Opposite to the situation in Europe, the prejudices of the Moroccans are not exploited and are not part of the programme of any political party”, asserts Colombe, coordinator of the programme Migration Solidarity.
Transits that drag on
This militant of the rights for migrants speaks of the witnessing gathered as having a double front. Some assert that they are fully integrated, others recall that they have suffered acts of racisms, such as having stones thrown at them … “When a Sub-Saharan migrant arrives to Morocco, he doesn’t’ think he will stay long before he undertakes the difficult journey towards Europe. Therefore he doesn’t try to integrate himself in Morocco. When the transit lasts longer, that’s when he starts considering the B plan, i.e. to settle down in Morocco” analyses Colombe. However, this B plan means failure, since the majority of the Sub-Saharans that live in Kingdom “believe they’re stuck in the country”. “Babies were born in Morocco during the waiting. We managed to integrate them in the health system, but they have no legal existence” laments Colombe. The babies born in Morocco can only obtain a birth notice. They are therefore not entered in the Registry Office. The migrants that arrive in Morocco rip their papers to avoid being recognised or expelled. Rachid works for the Association of the Families and Friends Victims of Clandestine Immigration (AFVIC), within the awareness-raising programme aimed at the Moroccan population. He believes that Moroccan society is not fundamentally racist. “The authors of blameworthy actions towards Sub-Saharans are mainly youngsters aged less than 20. They do it for fun. They’re not aware of the impact it can have on migrants”, he explains. Paulin Kuanzambi, from the Congo, is President of the Council for Sub-Saharan migrants and is perhaps more uncompromising. “Moroccans are not all racists, though I myself have been a victim of facial discrimination. Many times taxi drivers refused to take me on board”. The Council was founded the day after the tragic events of Ceuta and Melilla in the Autumn of 2005, when fourteen illegal immigrants were killed by the bullets of the Moroccan police forces and elements of the Guardia Civil. They had tried to get over the protection fencing installed between Morocco and the Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta. The Moroccan media was not altogether professional in treating this case. On 12 September 2005, a few days after the events of Ceuta and Melilla, as lead story of its edition, the regional Moroccan magazine “Ashamal” opened with the following title: “Black grasshoppers invade the North of Morocco”. Other articles followed, associating the Sub-Saharans to prostitution, begging, theft and AIDS.
The radicalisation of government
The events of Ceuta and Melilla were followed by a large pushback operation both by air and by ground. Many people were transported to Dakhla, Guelmim and Assa Zagh, and then abandoned with no food in the desert South of the country. Others were transported to the border with Algeria, which Morocco accused of “passivism” in managing this case. In fact, most of the Sub-Saharans that enter Morocco do it from the Algerian frontier. The migrants then spoke of the cases of rape, theft and physical torture committed by the Moroccan police. In the following years, the Moroccan authorities multiplied the arrests and pushbacks throughout the country. “Even asylum-seekers and statuary refugees were deported. The police forces did not even take UNHCR papers into consideration. Only recently, thanks to the pressures of civil society, refuges are more or less spared”, reports this Guinean asylum-seeker.
The year 2008 also brought on several tragedies, but also radicalisations. “The Navy followed us and, to stop the patera, it used a cutting device, a knife attached to a stick, which perforated the rubber dinghy, causing the drowning of 29 persons. The patera didn’t stop, the Royal Navy followed us at the same speed and the soldiers who carried a stick with a cutting object attached, deliberately perforated the dinghy”.This witnessing was gathered by AFVIC on the events that took place on the night from 28 to 29 April 2008, offshore the coast of Al-Hoceima. This witnessing blames the members of the Royal Navy, accused by the migrants to have pierced a rubber dinghy, causing the death of 29 people, including four children and four women. AFVIC requested to open a public case in order to take to justice all those responsible for these deaths. The association blames Europe for this radicalisation process of the Moroccan authorities: “Europe’s pressures are forcing Morocco to become the policeman of the old continent. European aid today is conditioned by Morocco’s level of cooperation in the migration case”, concludes one of the members of AFVIC.
Translated by Nada Ghorayeb
This article is published in the framework of the Dar-Med Project
"Preventing Violent Radicalisation 2007"