Hajar Chafai, Abou Ammar Tafnout
Illegal immigration is no longer attracting as many candidates as before. The powerful radars have eventually dissuaded plenty of them, encouraging them to take alternative routes. In Larache, the two associations, Pateras de la vida and the Moroccan Association for Human Rights have sounded the alarm about a complex and dramatic phenomenon from the very beginning.
Larache. This little city situated 80 km South of Tangiers facing the Atlantic Ocean had been one of the departure stations for illegal immigration candidates leaving to reach Spain, for a very long time. Nowadays, even if we still feel the urge to leave in the eyes of these young people who have been daily squatting cafés facing the Atlantic, Larache is not “the place where the pateras (boats) have the best chance to rally the continent anymore” whispers Samir, an 18-year-old boy from the city. The reason is all so simple. Spain has introduced a range of radar systems and thermal cameras that make escaping impossible. “Nowadays, candidates to illegal immigrations concentrate their efforts on the Canary Islands leaving from the Moroccan coasts or try the Libyan channel to Italy” explains an activist working with an association specialised in this field. Larache is one of the many cities of the country without proper resources to sustain its population with a majority of young people: fishing is the main activity and then there are a few food processing factories. Unemployed graduates daily appear in front of the Prefecture’s offices before leaving the place running, pursued by the police who do not hesitate to use the bludgeon…
“We are already dead here …”
Larache is also Pateras de la vida, an association created by the young people of this same city in order to bring a solution to the families of illegal immigration victims. “We have created our association in January 2000 in response to the wreck of pateras where a lot of victims were children coming from the region and other parts of Morocco”, tells us Mohamed Balga, one of the founders of Pateras de la vida. The subject was considered as a taboo for a long time and it was even impossible to talk about it the Moroccan press. It took an outcry from the Spanish media after the successive sinking of makeshift boats and pictures of corpses of unlucky illegal immigrants to make things move on the Southern Shore of the Mediterranean.
Pateras de la vida (PDLV) and the Association for Families of Illegal Immigration Victims (Afvic) and the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH) took over the issue and give media coverage on the illegal immigration phenomenon in Morocco. The then new independent press has become the best ally of these NGOs. “At that time, we had to do everything and above all make these young people aware of the dangers of illegal immigration. This is far from being an easy task given the fact that the overwhelming majority of Moroccan youth wants to leave the country”, remembers Balga. Fathiya Yaâcoubi, director of the local AMDH(1) section remembers the reaction of the young women targeted by the NGO in the framework of its awareness activities: “We used to repeat that if they took a patera, they risked death. They used to answer that they already felt dead in this country but if they had the luck to succeed, they would buy a house for their mothers. It was heartbreaking…”
Above all, it was important to target young people living in the douars(2) and villages close to Larache. This is where the candidates are recruited by the illegal immigration mafia. "We administered questionnaires to young people in order to identify the contours of the phenomenon," adds Balga. Social exclusion, marginality and idleness: these are the reasons given by young people from the countryside who suffer from the lack of state programs to what is still described as provincial Morocco. "We have also increased awareness among youth and women in slums like the one of Guadaloupé for example," adds Rashid about the association. The slum is home to many families with very limited income.
A gap of income
Guadaloupé’s inhabitants work as porters, cleaners, prostitutes or dealers. “We found that most of the mothers are very young and illiterate. We then started up training workshops (tailoring, hair dressing ...) and workshops to struggle against illiteracy. This did not prevent these young girls from dreaming of the European Eldorado. Several have managed to leave with false visas, false contracts and convenience marriage or via pateras”, explains a feminist association activist. This is normal as a women working in hairdressing cannot earn more than 1500 DH (120 Euros) per month. This has nothing to do with the 1000 Euros that she can earn in Spain working illegally as a cleaner. The president of the Larache section of AMDH brings an interesting perspective to the phenomenon: “Emigrants show they have money. They got married to beautiful European women and own cars. While to be able to afford this month of fun in the natal village, the immigrant deprives himself of everything in Europe. Plenty of them don’t pluck up the courage to come back once they try and discover the sad reality of life in Europe. This is because Moroccan society is quite severe with those who have set foot in Europe and return empty handed to their native country.”
Hajar Chafai / Abou Ammar Tafnout
-1) Moroccan Association for Human Rights
Translated into English by Elizabeth Grech
-2) Rural settlement