A conference is to be held in London on 1 April to launch a campaign about sub-Saharan African migrants in a precarious state of limbo in Morocco, which acts as a border policeman for the EU.
The organiser of the conference is Fatiha Hajjat who has a unique insight into what it is like to be a migrant. Her father migrated from Morocco to France in search of work and a better life. He found both, but also the racism and xenophobia of his adopted homeland of France.
Now Fatiha works on behalf of sub-Saharan African migrants who, for one reason or another, find themselves in Morocco, repelled from European migration by increasingly militarised and draconian border controls and unable or unwilling to return to their countries of origin. Here, despite the generosity of most Moroccans, migrants still fall prey to easy stereotyping, one Moroccan newspaper infamously referring to migrants as ‘black locusts’ invading Morocco. Unable to regularise their status, most remain in a form of illegal limbo. They are the living results of the shifting geo-politics of the twenty-first century and Morocco, like other northern African countries, is becoming the proving ground for this host of complex and competing pressures.
It is widely acknowledged that the number of migrants attempting to reach Europe has been on the increase. Yet media images of ‘avalanches’ and ‘tsunamis’ of migrating people are not reflective of figures which hover around the lower end of tens of thousands of people attempting to reach European shores each year. Fleeing for their lives as refugees or in search of a better life away from the wars, conflicts or relative poverty of their home country, these people collide with the political complexities of the European state. For Europe simultaneously encourages the flow of ‘highly skilled migrants’ whilst paying scant regard to the impact that this outflow of skilled labour has on the developing countries from which they depart. At the same time, it erects a plethora of increasingly militarised, technologically sophisticated border control regimes to repel ‘illegal migrants’, increasingly ‘outsources’ border control to ill-equipped and under-regulated third countries, and habitually reneges on the tenets of the refugee and human rights legislation it has been at the forefront of developing.
Why the conference
Fatiha Hajjat is the UK based coordinator for ABCDS (Association Beni Znassen Pour La Culture, Le Développement et La Solidarité), a non-governmental organisation based in Oujda, Morocco which has, for the past three years, been active in providing humanitarian and legal assistance to sub-Saharan migrants in transit in north-eastern Morocco. She says that, for an organisation like ABCDS, the shift in migration patterns through and to Morocco over the past few years has seen a sudden and dramatic increase in the kinds of people who are destitute and in need of their assistance, but who remain largely invisible to the Moroccan authorities and to the EU states whose rigid border policies contribute to their plight.
According to ABCDS, the situation of these migrants, in the eastern region of Morocco who live in makeshift camps in woods, caverns and derelict houses, is becoming increasingly difficult and living conditions are barely tolerable. Sub-zero temperatures in the winter and soaring heat in the summer, combined with a semi-desert environment, difficulty accessing food and water and their vulnerability to criminal gangs leaves many migrants in an extremely ‘precarious condition’, says Hicham Baraka, president of ABCDS. He ties these tales of destitution and desperation to the ‘sub-contracting’ job the EU calls on countries like Morocco to undertake, and says that, ‘This “sub-contracting” aims to conceal [the EU’s] responsibility with regard to all the consequences of closing and militarising its borders, particularly in relation to the suffering and the substantial violations of the rights and physical dignity of migrants both in Morocco and during their attempts to reach Europe.’ ABCDS has seen a marked increase in mass arrests of illegal migrants ‘each time a European official visits Morocco or when Morocco is invited to a meeting’, says Baraka, as ‘Morocco tries to show its good “will” and its “commitment” to playing the full role of the European Union’s border guard’.
Fatiha voices the frustration of these Moroccan organisations whose work on the frontlines remains largely unrecognised in the wider European debate on migration. In an attempt to, as Fatiha says, ‘bring the humanity back into the debate’, ABCDS and Migrant Rights Network, with the support of the Hamburg-based organisation Stiftung-do, have organised a path-breaking conference on the issue of migrants, human rights and the new EU borders. Driven by a sense of outrage at the way in which these migrants are demonised in the media, the conference organisers hope to raise awareness of the human impact of European border policies through a combination of filmed testimonials and talks by leading experts in the field. They also hope to raise awareness of the degree to which third countries, such as Morocco, are being expected to shoulder the burden of the EU’s tougher migration policies. In particular, they hope that the unique perspective and experiences of ABCDS, a key non-governmental organisation from Morocco, and the contribution from their president, Hicham Baraka, who is travelling from Morocco, will provide a glimpse of the reality of life for those migrants caught in a game of ‘human tennis’ between Europe, transit countries like Morocco and their countries of origin.
ABCDS and Migrant Rights Network are hosting the conference, entitled ‘Migration and Human Rights: The War Against Migrants at EU New Borders’, to raise awareness of sub-Saharan migrants in transit in Morocco. It is being held on 1 April 2008 at the Amnesty International Human Rights Action Centre in London. The conference in London will represent the opening salvo in a European-wide campaign which will see further meetings and conferences in France, Germany and Belgium. For more information, and to register for the conference, contact Fatiha Hajjat, ABCDS Coordinator London on email@example.com or call on 07883 478 787.