Fearing forced expulsion, migrants in Morocco go into hiding

Migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa take shelter while hiding from the police, in a forest in the district of Boukhalef, on the southwestern outskirts of the Moroccan port city of Tangiers. (Fadel Senna, AFP)
Migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa take shelter while hiding from the police, in a forest in the district of Boukhalef, on the southwestern outskirts of the Moroccan port city of Tangiers. (Fadel Senna, AFP)

"We hide out like wild animals," said Bamandou Kalli, an 18-year-old Guinean who like dozens of fellow migrants is holed up in Moroccan scrubland in fear of expulsion by the authorities.

On the outskirts of Tangiers, a group of migrants rests under the shade of a tree where they have made a makeshift home after fleeing police raids.

Ibrahim, a 19-year-old from Guinea, said the situation has become increasingly difficult and worrying.

"We don't know what will happen, we cling on to life but it's not easy," he said.

In setting up their new camp, the men have placed carpets and blankets on the parched earth. Food is shared from a cooking pot placed on the ground.

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They moved to the outskirts of Tangiers, a port city on Morocco's northern coast, after authorities launched an operation last month targeting people smugglers and the migrants they bring to the country from sub-Saharan Africa.

The campaign came after hundreds of migrants forced their way into the Spanish enclave of Ceuta by storming the heavily fortified border fence.

In the Tangiers neighbourhoods of Boukhalef and Mesnanatan, police then moved in with the backing of special forces and helicopters, rounding up migrants, witnesses said.

While officials would not comment on the operation, witnesses said numerous people were injured as they were forced onto southbound buses which would see the migrants deported.

During one such transfer in early August, two Malians died, one of them a 16-year-old. Moroccan authorities have opened an investigation to determine the circumstances of the "accident".

'A pitiful state'

Walking with a crutch after scrambling over a wall to escape the raid, Wilfried said the operation was "very violent".

"They went into the houses, they took our money and our jewellery, they put us on board (the bus) but they couldn't take me," said the 35-year-old from Cameroon.

Wilfried said he had tried unsuccessfully to cross into Algeria from the Moroccan town of Oujda, despite the border between the two countries being closed.

He now hoped to reach the Spanish mainland, visible across the water from Tangiers.

Jalal, a Moroccan who helped Wilfried, slammed the authorities for using violence during raids in his neighbourhood.

"These Africans suffer a lot, they're in a pitiful state," he said. "I was illegally in Europe and I was never treated in this way."

Driss El Yazami, head of Morocco's state-funded National Human Rights Council, said last week the expulsions are legal and that his organisation makes sure vulnerable people are protected.

Dozens of migrants protested over the weekend outside the prosecutor's office in Tangiers but were blocked by police, multiple source said.

Witnesses of the raids argue that police fail to distinguish between migrants who are in Morocco illegally and those with the necessary paperwork.

In Nador, in the northeast, the Moroccan Association of Human Rights has accused authorities of violence towards women, some of whom were pregnant.

In a Facebook post, the association also said minors were "arrested and pushed back (across the border) even though Moroccan law forbids it".

Laetitia, a 24-year-old Cameroonian, said some of those affected have been traumatised and others have developed mental health problems.

"I thought that Morocco was a country that respected human rights, but seeing how our brothers are mistreated, where are we heading?"

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