Morocco turns into destination for migrants
Morocco is one of the world’s leading sources of migration, with 4 million citizens living abroad, but it has also turned into a destination for migrants and refugees, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, due to its stable economy, proximity to Europe and relatively flexible migration policy.
A mere 15km across the Strait of Gibraltar from mainland Spain at its closest, Morocco is nearest to mainland Europe of all African countries. The Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, bordering Morocco, have the European Union’s only land frontiers with Africa.
Thousands of illegal migrants from sub-Saharan Africa use Morocco as a transit point to reach Europe, complicating relations between Morocco and the European Union.
“Migrants from sub-Saharan Africa coming from a poor background are transiting through Morocco because of Europe,” said Mehdi Alioua, a sociology professor at the International University of Rabat.
“White or black, Muslim or Christian, migrants have to find ways of adapting and integrating into society to settle permanently in our country or use it as a threshold to go elsewhere,” Alioua said.
With the number of migrants and refugees in Morocco growing, King Mohammed VI in 2013 called for the government to address their status. Since then, Morocco has regularised the status of more than 20,000 migrants, granting residency permits and setting up programmes to integrate migrants into a society struggling to accept their presence.
On January 10th, the monarch ordered the Council of Ministers to extend migrants’ residency permits from one to three years to make it easier for them to access housing, loans and business opportunities.
A statement from the cabinet said: “Procedures for the issuance and renewal of residency permits will be accelerated and simplified to the maximum extent possible.”
Alioua said the king’s initiative makes sense given the situation.
“It is, of course, part of Morocco’s desire to come back stronger in Africa because, if Morocco wants to be in Africa, Africa must be in Morocco,” he said.
“Since these regularisation campaigns concern not only Africans but also all migrant populations with irregular status, such as Spain and the Philippines, this logic must be understood as a desire to strengthen the rule of law and to improve the multicultural aspect of living together in Morocco.”
In 2003 Morocco criminalised illegal migration, set severe sanctions for the support and organisation of irregular migration and increased human and technological control capacities at its borders. Civil society groups said, however, the law was no longer compatible with Morocco’s migration policy.
Not all are willing to back needed reforms, said Alioua, who blamed Islamist politicians for failing to commit to them because of religious reasons.
“It is primarily a lack of will,” he said. “The government is led by an Islamist party that has allied itself with pan-Arabists. They are not for this regularisation nor for a plural society. For them, Morocco is an Arab and Muslim country. Some (Islamist politicians) have even criticised this regularisation and others have asked that it be applied only to Muslims.”
“Indeed, today the children of migrants go to school but will have to follow the courses of Islamic education while some are not Muslims. In addition, non-Moroccan citizens can easily obtain Moroccan nationality,” he said.
Sub-Saharan Africans once regularised have the same employment rights as Moroccans and may work in sectors such as construction, catering and hospitality, contributing to the Moroccan economy.
“Migration is still poorly understood. As if we had a cake for a number of people and if new people arrive they will have to share and therefore have less,” Alioua said. “However, the economic reality is very different: When new people arrive, the size of the cake increases because they consume, lodge, pay taxes and so on,” Alioua said.
However, he said discrimination against foreigners is common and is in violation of the country’s constitution.
“There is anti-black racism that is beginning to rise in our country and this is very worrying,” he said.
Saad Guerraoui is a regular contributor to The Arab Weekly on Maghreb issues.