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African Migrants in Morocco Tell of Abuse

Source : | 29 November 2012 |  World | 1254 views

RABAT, Morocco — A long car ride north of the center of Morocco’s capital, Rabat, behind a market and through a maze of narrow alleys in a densely populated northern suburb, Takadoum, is a crumbling building. Here, illegal sub-Saharan migrants share tea and swap stories of assault, rape and daily encounters with hostility.

At a gathering in October on the roofless terrace of the building, a couple of dozen illegal migrants sat on a mattress or on little stools beneath a blue plastic sheet to protect them from the rain, and shared harrowing accounts of their lives in Morocco.

The Moroccans think  “they can do whatever they want to us,” said one migrant from Niger who asked not to be named out of fear for his safety. “The police rip off our identity cards and arrest us and people hold their noses when they see us.”

There are an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 illegal sub-Saharan migrants in Morocco, according to an organization called the Anti-Racist Group to Defend Foreigners and Migrants, or Gadem, from its French name.

In Morocco, a country of 33 million where 56 percent of adults are illiterate, according to the United Nations, and perhaps 30 percent of youths are unemployed, the presence of what seems to be a large influx of people from elsewhere is causing tension.

With huge unresolved economic problems, “there is a tendency to shift the blame for problems to migrants — particularly crime and unemployment,” Hein de Haas, co-director of the International Migration Institute at the University of Oxford and an authority on migration in Morocco, said in a telephone interview this week.

A cover of the magazine Maroc Hebdo this month showed a close-up of the face of a young dark-skinned man above a stark headline, “The Black Peril.” The cover article accused sub-Saharan Africans of criminal activities in Morocco.

Most, but not all, sub-Saharans in Morocco are illegal migrants passing through the country on their way to Europe. Often they try to cross the Mediterranean in small boats, and every month several drown.

Others try to cross via a forest into the Spanish enclave of Melilla, in northern Morocco. It is a journey fraught with the risk of brutal treatment at the hands of the Moroccan police, according to migrants themselves and to human rights organizations.

“There are high levels of impunity within the Moroccan authorities,” said Viviana Waisman, executive director and co-founder of Women’s Link Worldwide, an organization that works for gender equality. “Europe is turning a blind eye to that because they want Morocco to be a gatekeeper.”

Despite repeated attempts to reach government officials this week, none was available to comment on the government’s policy toward illegal migrants, or allegations of abuse.

Immigrants are not only subject to violence and human rights abuses, Ms. Waisman and others said, but they and their defenders have also been singled out in a wave of arrests.

Laye Camara, the founder of the Council of Sub-Saharan Migrants in Morocco and a Guinean citizen, was arrested on Oct. 20. The police, who said they had found three bottles of wine and two cartons of cigarettes in his apartment, charged him with selling alcohol without a license and smuggling cigarettes, according to the Moroccan Association of Human Rights.

Eric Tabo, 20, walks around on crutches in his T-shirt and jeans. He shares one room in Takadoum with five other people. Mr. Tabo, a native of Cameroon, tried to make his way to Europe to find work to support his siblings after his parents died. Today, his sources of income are panhandling and charity.

“When I arrived in Morocco, my life changed — it became a nightmare,” he said in an interview last month. “I never thought that one day my life would be like this.”

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