Moroccan migrants risk it all to reach Europe

2018-09-21 19:30
Morocco flag. (iStock)

Morocco flag. (iStock)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

In the Spanish enclave of Melilla in northern Morocco, 19-year-old Issam crouches near the port after hopping over a fence across one of the only land borders bridging Europe and Africa.

He is one of thousands of would-be migrants in the kingdom, dubbed "harraga" in Arabic, referring to those prepared to risk it all to reach mainland Europe.

"Everyone wants to move," says the young man from the city of Fez, his hood pulled up and his trousers smeared in engine grease.

Fleeing "misery and injustice" at home, he says he is looking for a ticket to a "European paradise".

But his journey is not over yet.

To cross the Mediterranean, he will have to cling to the chassis of a truck boarding a boat, or to the mooring lines of a ferry leaving for Spain.

Further back from the coast in Melilla's highlands, 23-year-old Hamid stares out across the harbour, closely eyeing its criss-crossing vessels.

He left his hometown of central Meknes where he earned just over $6.50 a day laying tiles.

"You can't live in dignity with that," says Hamid, who has never learnt to read or write.

"I know fathers who have families who want to leave - people are desperate," he adds.

 'Numbers exploding' 

South of Melilla in the Moroccan coastal town of Nador, groups of young men gather on sidewalks, killing time watching busses and trucks en route to the autonomous Spanish city.

"Since the beginning of the year, the number of Moroccans like them looking to migrate has exploded in Nador," a Melilla resident tells AFP.

The number of Moroccans daring to reach Europe by sea has "increased considerably in recent months", says Aziz Kattouf, head of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH).

According to Kattouf, leaving has become "easier" and is done "often with out an intermediary... (the migrants) pitching in to buy a boat motor in front of everyone".

A lack of official data means the actual number of Moroccans making dangerous and sometimes deadly bids to reach Europe is unknown.

Since early 2018, Spain has logged more than 38 000 arrivals, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

For their part, Moroccan authorities say that since January they have prevented 54 000 attempts to reach Europe. According to figures from the government spokesperson, these included 7 100 Moroccans up to the end of August.

For weeks, Moroccan social media networks have been inundated with videos showing smiling youth brandishing the victorious V with their fingers as they board small rubber boats headed illegally for Spain.

Posts on Facebook advertise crossings to Europe for 7 000 dirhams ($739).

On its website, Moroccan Weekly TelQuel has dubbed the digital push illegal migration "Harraga 2.0".

 'Isolated, marginalised' 

On Wednesday, Morocco's interior ministry sent a memo to local media warning against videos "fundamentally intended to mislead public opinion" and announcing the launch of an investigation.

The same day, a new video appeared showing three activists from Morocco's northern Rif region on a makeshift boat.

According to the AMDH's Kattouf, most Moroccans trying to reach Europe come from that area, which has been wracked by protests in 2016 and 2017 over its marginalisation.

"There is a lack of confidence in the projects announced (for the Rif), and an atmosphere of despair has been accentuated by the severe sentences handed to the movement's political detainees," said Kattouf.

In June, activists put on trial for links to the region's social protests were handed sentences of up to 20 years.

Home to one of the continent's most developed economies, Morocco remains marred by major social inequalities, according to official statistics.

Young people in the kingdom, who make up a third of its population, have been particularly marginalised.

Some 27.5% of 15 to 24-year-olds - nearly 1.7 million people - are not at school, are unemployed or lack any skills.

More than one out of every five migrants in Morocco is under the age of 19, according to the IOM.

Mbarek, a 25-year-old bricklayer came to Nador from Tinghir, 700km south, to follow in the footsteps of "friends who've gone to Europe".

"In the construction sector, you're not an official employee, you're not protected - you can die while doing your job and no one will care about you," he says, as fellow travellers nod in agreement.

From the southern semi-desert town of Zagora, 19-year-old Ismail says he has tried to make the journey twice - each time clinging to the underside of a truck, watching "death" pass beneath him on the road to Almeria, Spain.

Both times he was caught by Spanish authorities and expelled. But he is not about to give up.

In Morocco "we're treated with cruelty. Harraga are seen as less than nothing, isolated and marginalised," he grumbles.

* Sign up to News24's top Africa news in your inbox: SUBSCRIBE TO THE HELLO AFRICA NEWSLETTER

FOLLOW News24 Africa on Twitter and Facebook

Read more on:    morocco  |  north africa

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.