Trapped in Morocco

Thousands of Sub-Saharan migrants are trapped in Morocco – forced end to their journey, a dam for Europe- destitute, underground, exposed to all sorts of violence.

MSF | Lali Cambra and Anna Surinyach
In Rabat, like in the main cities in the country, the migrant population conceals more easily, despite the ever-present risk of detention, deportation, violence. Many Sub-Saharan women fall prey to human trafficking networks that exploit them sexually on the way or at destination.
Oujda is the first town where most Sub-Saharan migrants arriving in Morocco through Algeria gather. It is the town to which they return when they are deported, expelled to the border. Back to square one.
In Nador, they live in camps in the bush around the town, waiting for human smugglers to organize their crossing. In Mount Gurugu, they are living in makeshift camps, in the open, waiting to jump the fences, with Melilla-Spain-Europe in sight, inaccessible. So close and yet so far.

Click on the city to follow the route of the migrants.

01.

Rabat

The exact size of sexual violence experienced by Sub-Saharan migrant men, women, boys and girls during their journey is unknown. Impossible to gauge when people try to go unnoticed and /or are in the hands of human smuggling networks. Just from 2010 to 2012 MSF treated 700 patients who had been attacked. The journey to Morocco, especially for women, poses high risks, on occasions coming on top of attacks to which they were subjected in their countries of origin.

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03.

Marie

“Our trip is not a trip as such. When you are by yourself, when you have nowhere to spend the night, when you don’t know the country, you are exposed”. This is the statement from a nameless, faceless woman, like all the women interviewed that will be called Marie, and that was raped four times on the way from Cameroon to Rabat. She became pregnant and has just given birth in the Moroccan capital.

Marie, 30, is waiting for her child to grow a little before daring to take him onboard a rubber dinghy to Europe. She left her small daughter behind in Cameroon unable to take care of her and out of reach now, “because I have no money, nothing to give her if she asked me”. Marie is still standing strong and carrying in her arms an unwanted baby she is learning to love.

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04.

Beauty

Beauty hides behind a scarf and speaks French sweetly as Ivorians do. She left Ivory Coast because of war, because she says her name was on a list together with those supporting the wrong President, and witnessed part of her family being killed. She left her child behind, under the care of her father, not politically marked. She is 32. She was raped in Algeria on two occasions: by two Cameroonians in Tamanrasset and by Algerians in Maghnia, close to the border with Morocco. She became infected with HIV, which came together with tuberculosis, and it was finally in Rabat where she got medical and psychological care from MSF.

She hopes to recover, “if I have not been killed in my country, on the way, if this disease has not killed me, it is because God has something in store for me and wants me alive”, and be able to reach Europe. She cannot go back to her country and she does not want to stay in Morocco, where there is no work, where she says she is not accepted.

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05.

Gala

Gala’s case is different. She is a 52-year-old widow. She has travelled with her three daughters to Rabat. Her problems started in her country, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in Beni, in North Kivu. She was raped by a group of seven soldiers repeatedly. But she had managed to hide her children. She shakes her head when she reads news from her always troubled region.

She says that she left her country in order to avoid rape threats to her daughters, “in DRC you cannot sleep quietly, if it is not your place, it is your neighbour’s”. But on her way, between Mali and Algeria, her oldest daughter, 23, was raped by soldiers. In Rabat, she has known she is HIV positive. She doesn’t know where to go, she did not flee to end up in Morocco. She just fled.

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01.

Oujda

The fear to be deported is ongoing. Oujda is notoriously known to Sub-Saharan migrants. Most of them arrive through Algeria and Oujda is the entry point. It is also the town to which they return when Moroccan security forces expel them from the country. Usually in groups of 20 or 30 people. Sometimes, injured, sometimes, minors.

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02.

In no man’s land

When they are deported, they are left to fend for themselves in no man’s land, they are later rejected by Algerians and forced to return on foot to Oujda, five or twenty hours walking, depending on where they were left and on whether they know how to move through the desert and leave it behind or not.

In Oujda they have settled in lands within the University compound and also in the surrounding area. They divide themselves into communities, Ghana, Mali, Cameroon, Guinea. Oujda is the entry and exit point as well as the place where to take a rest, to recover, to heal the wounds (if they have been deported from Nador, rejected by force when attempting to jump over the fence to Melilla, in Oujda they can get treatment in public health centres), while waiting for the right season to come and the weather allows the sea-crossing. Undocumented and thus unable to work, they are condemned to beg.

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03.

Minors and beggars

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Minors in Morocco

They are not an exception. Thirteen and eighteen-year olds arriving in Morocco by themselves or accompanying elder brothers or cousins. They flee poverty, without parents or family to help them, sharing the same dream as the rest: reaching Europe, playing football (dreams are nothing but dreams), keep studying, get a job. Just like the rest of migrants, they live in the open and their survival depends on Moroccans’ charity.

La mendicidad



Greet and beg. This is what most Sub-Saharan migrants are forced to in Morocco, unable to look for a job due to their clandestine condition. This is one of their most common complaints. Adults and children, men and women. By the entrance to the mosques, in the markets, at the traffic lights. It is one more sign of vulnerability affecting migrants, condemned to beg because the migration policies in force render them illegal and marginalise them. In the markets, Sub-Saharan migrants have specialized in begging and scavenging in the garbage for chicken legs and heads, lambskin. Moroccans don’t eat this.

01.

Nador

Since 2005, when some people were killed, there had not happened again until last year: attempts to jump the fences that separate Nador from the Spanish territory of Melilla by groups of Sub-Saharan youth.

1100 people seen with injuries related to violence by the MSF teams in 2012. Direct violence, when forced to turn back by the security forces at the very fences; or indirectly, with injures occurred while fleeing from the soldiers and police raids. The outcome: fractured arms, legs, hands, and jaws, broken teeth, concussions, vision loss...

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02.

Violence in Gurugu

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Two different migrant populations gather in Nador. Those choosing to cross the sea and living in the bush around the town, inside, and those living in Gurugu. The latter, without money to attract human traffickers, only seek to succeed in their next attempt to jump the fence into Melilla. In Gurugu Mount, a vantage point from which Melilla can be seen as one step away, hundreds of migrants seek shelter, fires to keep warm, dirty plastic sheeting to protect themselves from the rain. Beg for food, flee from the police, wishing they had wings.

Nador is beautiful, Mediterranean. A pleasant town, sea, pine groves, the bush and a lagoon, Mar Chica, which next year will become a large natural park attracting birdwatchers: thousands of seagulls take shelter in the lagoon, indigenous species and migratory birds, flamingos amongst them.

A different kind of migration is the one sought by those living in the bush around Nador and those surviving in the Gurugu Mount. These are different migratory species: the former choose the sea, hidden in the forest (men, women and children) waiting for human traffickers to find them a place in a crowded boat; the latter, in the Gurugu, without money to attract human smugglers, only seek to succeed in their next attempt to jump the fence into Melilla. Those in Gurugu, except for a woman, are all young men, wishing they had wings.

03.

Crossing the sea

On the other side of Nador, inside, the profile of the migrants choosing to cross the sea is different, there being many women, a lot of them pregnant, and quite a lot of children too. Camps are divided into nationalities and languages (English speakers on the one hand and French speakers on the other). Yet there is some order in this chaos, a proof that someone is in charge, someone ruling, someone making the crossing of the Strait possible. The living conditions, however, are not better than in Gurugu: plastic sheeting to barely set up a sort of tent, shortage of food, lack of water, begging. And the fear of the sea, of death. And, despite the determination to reach Europe, the dreams.

Prince, Cameroon, 20, has two: work in a restaurant in Bilbao and the dream within a dream, singing in a cabaret in Paris. Prince, in Morocco, sings songs from his countryman, Richard Bona, speaking of the beauty in old age. Prince waits for a place on a boat.

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01.

Report

MSF has published a report on Sub-Saharan migrants, their living conditions and the violence they face, including recommendations to Moroccan and Spanish governments.

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