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Thursday, October 13, 2005

Immigration to Morocco

The past several weeks have seen dramatic scenes in Morocco, as hundreds of sub-Saharan African immigrants have stormed Ceuta and Melilla, the two Spanish enclaves in North Africa (with reports of tens of thousands more waiting to join them, according to the most alarmist articles).

These events have obviously received a certain amount of coverage in the press, but I'm not so interested in them in and of themselves. The story is a typical one; a sizeable number of Africans want to go to Europe, visas are hard to come by, so they try to get in illegally etc etc etc. What I am more interested in is the question of what is happening on the ground in Morocco. I'm curious about the social/cultural impact on Arab/Berber Morocco of having so many black Africans passing through, with a certain number inevitably staying. It is somewhat difficult to find much information on this topic, but this piece from Migration Information has some useful background info:

Although most migrants consider Morocco a country of transit, an increasing number of migrants who fail to enter Europe prefer to settle in Morocco on a more long-term basis rather than return to their more unstable and substantially poorer home countries. Probably several tens of thousands have settled in cities like Tangiers, Casablanca, and Rabat on a semi-permanent basis, where they sometimes find jobs in the informal service sector, petty trade, and construction. Others try to pursue studies in Morocco.

Yet sub-Saharan migrants face substantial xenophobia and aggressive Moroccan and particularly Spanish border authorities. Since most of them have no legal status, they are vulnerable to social and economic marginalization.

In September 2005, a Moroccan newspaper compared sub-Saharan African migrants to "black locusts" invading northern Morocco. Frequent round-ups have occurred in immigrant neighborhoods and in improvised ad-hoc camps close to the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla and larger cities, and unauthorized migrants are regularly deported to the Algerian border.

There is evidence that a substantial minority of immigrants to Morocco have migrated for reasons that fall under the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. However, the Moroccan government assumes that virtually all sub-Saharan immigrants in Morocco are "economic migrants" on their way to Europe.

This means asylum seekers are rejected at the border or deported as "illegal economic immigrants" even though Morocco is party to the 1951 Geneva Convention, has a formal system for adjudicating asylum applications, and has an Office of Refugees and Stateless Persons (Bureau des Réfugies et Apatrides - BRA) to assist and protect refugees.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Morocco has recognized about 2,100 people in Morocco today as refugees, but the BRA generally does not grant them status. Therefore, they lack rights to employment, education, and health care.

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