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Sub-Saharan refugees in Morocco

„Chabaka“ is a network of organisations in Northern Morocco. Several organisations of various fields of activity are associated; they are dealing with subject areas such as human rights, civil rights, fight against unemployment, women, culture, rural development, and ecology. The network is particularly strong in the cities of Tetouán, Tangier, Larache and Alhucemas.
The organisations decided to cooperate in order to be able to use common resources and to have synergy effects. Communication, cooperation and exchange should improve the efficiency of the participating organisations, also in collaboration with organisations from Southern Spain.
Chabaka is organising meetings, congresses, conferences, campaigns, manifestations of solidarity, sit-ins, demonstrations, workshops and projects.

A focus lies on the problem of migration of Sub-Saharan Africans towards Europe. For those migrants, Morocco is the most important land of transit; from Morocco they are trying to reach Spain by boat. Experts estimate that every year around 120,000 Africans try to reach Europe on various routes, many of whom die on the way in the Sahara desert or in the Mediterranean sea. Only in Morocco, some 100,000 people are being retained from the authorities every year. Chabaka is trying to provide human living conditions to illegal Sub-Saharans in Morocco. 

The activities where volunteers can come into play involve: 

* Data collection through surveys, interviews etc., field work with sub-Saharan refugees; good command of French or English language is required.

* Writing reports and texts about the outcomes of the research

* Participating in the organisation and realisation of events and activities about the topic of Sub-Saharan refugees, in cooperation with NGOs from Southern Spain. 

* Participating in activities concerning regional problems (not related to refugees)

* Participating in training sessions (education of educators, project management, giving training about your specific field of expertise)

* Implementation of websites for the NGOs which are part of the network 

Further information: See below reports of our participants and collection of links.

Info box:

Location: Tangier and other cities in Morocco. Most participants are based in Tangier, but are ocassionally travelling to Oujda at the Algerian border.

Duration: Minimum 4 weeks*

Special qualifications needed: no

Costs: none, the trouble-free package is optional

Accommodation: Not included

Meals: Not included

Included: Placement in the project; if you opt for the trouble-free package the whole range of services which is part of the trouble-free package is included

Not included: Travel to Morocco, health insurance

Book this placement now!


*You can also book this activity as a 2-3 weeks  "Voluntourism Hopper"

They’ve come a long way. (... by our volunteer Ursula)

They have left their home countries, because they couldn’t see a future there. Many paid large sums to touts who promised them a good life, either in Morocco or in Europe. They have crossed the Sahara on foot or in the back of trucks, bribed border patrols, were sent back several times, have suffered hunger, thirst and illness; an unknown number of people never made it this far.

Now they are here, in Northern Morocco, in viewing distance of their destination: Spain, Europe, the Promised Land. And they are stuck. It has been easier to cover thousands of miles from their homelands – Nigeria, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, Mali – than to make those last 14 km to the Spanish coast. Quite a few of them are here for years already, with no passports, no legal status, no opportunity to find work, send their kids to school, or get a decent place to live.

The situation of migrants from sub-Saharan countries in Morocco is nothing to write postcards home about. They live cramped together in small rooms some poorer Moroccans let to them. In many cases it’s not much more than closets, a few square meters, shared between half a dozen people, with mattresses on the floor and a kerosene or gas cooker for a kitchen, without windows or daylight. I am visiting Jordan* and his family at their home. They are well off in comparison to most of their peers, having two small windowless rooms and a kitchen to themselves. A bathroom is on the corridor, the rent is 140 € per month. The whole family (Jordan, his wife Ella with baby Blessing and their 4 year old son John) is out begging all day every day to make ends meet – well, somehow meet.

Jordan and Ella arrived in Tangier from Nigeria almost 10 years ago. Until now, he has been captured by police and deported to the Algerian border twenty (!) times, Ella a mere eight. She is safer, when she’s out with the baby, the police won’t keep her in custody or deport her. Every time they came back to Tangier, on foot. It’s here where they are closest to their dream: to finally make it those magical 14 km across the Gibraltar Strait. And there is no doubt in their mind that they will make it, some day. “As far as I am concerned, that’s my only option”, says Jordan, “Morocco doesn’t give us a chance.”

Jordan is 33 years old, intelligent, outspoken, educated. He studied business administration in Nigeria, speaks five languages. Here in Tangier he is something like the spokesman of the Nigerian community. “I know I can make a decent life for myself and my family”, he says. Economical crisis in Europe? Unemployment and high costs of living? Racism? Jordan and Ella won’t have any of that; in their mind, everything will just click into place once they are THERE. In fact, their positive attitude is inspiring; eight years of living hand to mouth in these depressing conditions haven’t destroyed their spirits.
There are an estimated 1,000 sub- Saharan immigrants living in and around Tangier. Not all of them found a shelter with walls and a roof; some are regularly camping out in the forests near Sebta, the Spanish outpost on the Moroccan coast. In October 2005, the police raided those grounds and ousted the inhabitants. Ever since, there is an annual demonstration in memory of the people who have been violently chased off the land. Moroccans are by far not all indifferent or hostile towards the immigrants.

I am here as a volunteer with WorldUnite!, helping Chabaka, a North Moroccan NGO network that concerns itself with the situation of sub- Saharan immigrants. Chabaka organizes the yearly demonstration and works together with a variety of other NGOs on political and educational projects.

Right now, their focus is on education for the immigrants’ children. Since many of them were born outside hospitals, they don’t have a birth certificate, no legal status and therefore no right to attend school.

To strengthen their political actions with as many facts as possible, Chabaka decided to conduct interviews with the immigrants. It’s about getting first hand information regarding their experiences, their present life circumstances, their hopes, fears and dreams. It’s about developing an agenda based on dialogue instead of assumptions.

I have spent weeks talking to men, women and children like Jordan’s family, and I have heard some truly hair- rising stories.  No, they are not here for the adventure or because the mood took them! They came because they couldn’t feed their families, or they weren’t safe in their own countries. They’re here because they didn’t see a way to stay there.

And now, after all they have been through, what are their options?
Continuing to Europe?

Well, that’s what everybody wants. At first I wondered, you’ve been here for years, how can you still keep that dream alive? I found out soon enough: during my time in Tangier, two of my interviewees actually made it! The word spread like wildfire, and oh those big smiles on all the faces! So yes, it can happen – that’s probably enough to keep the community focused.

The other question is, will it be everything they think it is? Chances are, they will end up doing illegal, badly paid jobs and just about survive there. They will also face racism at least to the same extent they do in Morocco.

But then again, maybe they will do well for themselves, eventually. It would be very, very well deserved.

Staying in Morocco? I got mixed reactions to that question. While most people feel Morocco won’t be a viable option, quite a few also said they would stay if they had an opportunity to find a job and make a decent living. As one man so catchily put it: “Everywhere where there is a future, is Europe.” And looking at the potential many of my interviewees have to offer, it wouldn’t be a bad deal for Morocco either: there are well educated, multilingual, skilled people among them, physically strong (well, they have proven that already, haven’t they?) and willing to work hard. What a waste of resources, their being reduced to beggars on Tangier’s streets!

Returning to their home countries? Everybody I talked to spoke emotionally about their motherland. But if a country is so worn- out by unrest, poverty, corruption and inaptitude of its leaders, who can blame the young people for seeking to build a future elsewhere? Well, that future proves quite hard to find. But how can you go back empty handed, after you set out with high hopes and dreams to “make it”? Plus, what would you do back home, then? The situation you ran from in the first place hasn’t improved, you have spent all your savings to get where you are right now, and even if you could find the money for the return journey, and face the shame of having given up, what would you live from there?Later, yes, once there has been success, and money to show for it, then a majority would consider going back home – provided the situation there has improved, too.

It all comes down to making a decent living in safety for oneself and one’s family. It’s the driving force behind all migrations in known history – and who could deny this wish, or blame people for having it? It’s a basic life force and has ensured the survival of humankind to this day. People have migrated all over planet Earth, following the herds, or moving away from draughts, or the cold, or the heat...

But in this day and age, if you cannot feed your family in the Sahel, where can you turn? (Plus, there are plenty of Moroccans who are looking across the Gibraltar Strait longingly... But that would be another article to write.)

*all names have been changed

The situation of Sub-Saharans in Oujda ( our volunteer Iris)

Oujda, a town close to the Algerian border, has a bit more than half a million inhabitants and is basically known for its university. Since 1999, this city became a transit destination for migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa after passing the Algerian desert. The Algerian border is about 15 kilometers from the city. The border has been officially closed since 1994.

The Sub-Saharans live in the forests nearby Oujda in so-called “tranquillos”. Tranquillos are camps and homes made of plastic and other scavenged materials. In each tranquillo there are 20 to 30 people, some of them just arrived, some of them living there for years. Their only source of income is begging. The equipment ranges from simple cooking facilities, TVs, blankets, clothes etc. to others who have nothing but the plastic above their head and the clothes on their body. Sometimes they construct simple churches.

Every 3 to 4 weeks the Moroccan police raid their camps at 4 or 5 in the morning. They take everything they find, including mobiles, TVs, money. What is of no value to them such as clothes, churches, plastics, food etc. gets burned or destroyed. There have been reports about cases of rape. Those migrants who are lucky can manage to escape. The others are being arrested by police and get deported to the Algerian desert, without money, food or water. The Sub-Saharans are considered illegal and no rights are being granted to them. Instead of a lawsuit, they are being departed over night.

However, not only the Moroccan government is to blame for this situation, as pressure seems to come from the European Union. The program Meda (“Mésures d’accompagnement financières et techniques”) provides funds to the State of Morocco to “foster a better management of migratory flows”.  The restrictive immigration policy of the EU seems to intensify the situation in Morocco, making the Moroccan state adopting a harder line on that issue.

The association ABCDS (l’association Beni Znassen pour la culture, le développement et la solidarité) is a non-governmental organisation founded in 2005, based in Oujda, Morocco. Their vision is to change the immigration policy of Morocco and of the European Union. Their most important aspect is to ensure human rights to the migrants in Morocco. To achieve their goal, they cooperate with international human rights organizations and plan to create an influential national council to work on immigration issues.

At the moment, ABCDS provides humanitarian aid: they collect and distribute clothes and food, denounce violations of human rights, provide lawyers and English translation for tribunals, and provide health care in urgent cases. Further, they do communications and PR with the goal to sensitize a wider public about the issue on a world-wide level. Their biggest obstacle is lack of finance. 

Case study written by our participant Vincent:
Migration at Europe’s frontiers - the account of Karim Keita (PDF, 908 kb)

Collection of links:

* The desert front - EU refugee camps in North Africa?

* Human Rights on the southern frontier 2009 (PDF)

* Médecins Sans Frontières - VIOLENCE and IMMIGRATION; Report on illegal sub-Saharan immigrants (ISSs) in Morocco (PDF)

* Sexual Violence and Migration - The hidden reality of Sub-Saharan women trapped in Morocco en route to Europe (PDF)

* Europe’s murderous borders (Migreurop 2009)

* Guerre aux migrants - Le livre noir de Ceuta et Melilla (PDF)

* Bericht zu dem Thema (PDF) von Omid Nouripour, Mitglied des Bundestages