Moroccan authorities spent the first week of Ramadan dismantling migrant camps in the north of the country.
The migrant camps, which were established along the international border separating the Moroccan mainland from the Spanish enclave, Melilla, have been frequent targets of government containment actions as Morocco seeks to reduce the movement of migrants and refugees toward Europe.
A communiqué published by the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH) on May 17 criticized the “relentlessness” of the Moroccan authorities, arguing that the only possible explanation for the near daily operations is the country’s determination “to blindly serve the European agenda on migration.” Indeed, there have been numerous well-documented reports of internal expulsions as the migrants arrested during these raids are transferred, via bus, to remote regions of Morocco, seemingly to put some distance between them and the European continent.
AMDH reported that Moroccan authorities raided a migrant camp outside of Nador last weekend and arrested 34 people, including 16 women and four immigrants who possessed Moroccan residency cards. All 34 of them were put on a chartered bus and driven to Béni Mellal, a town of about 200,000 inhabitants in the rugged Middle Atlas mountain range. No official assistance was provided to the migrants upon reaching the city, which is some 600 kilometers southwest of Nador.
And while the dangers of attempting a sea crossing are well known – according to the International Organization for Migration (OIM), 636 people died during the crossing between January and mid-May of this year, including 217 who perished on the Western Mediterranean route linking Morocco with Spain – less attention has been paid to the no-less tragic deaths that occur on land.
The Nador region with its strategic position near Melilla has been the site of several migrant deaths in recent months. On May 10, police officers found a woman’s body at the bottom of a well just outside of Béni Chikar, a village in the north of Nador province and the birthplace of writer Mohammed Chukri. Although the circumstances surrounding the death could not be verified, local residents confirmed that the well is located along a path frequently used at night by migrants attempting to reach Melilla under the cover of darkness. As of publication, the woman’s identity could not be verified.
The AMDH confirmed another death in the Nador region in May. Mamadou Ba Camara, a young man from Guinea, was found dead at the Bekoya camp on May 26. According to eyewitnesses, Camara had woken up to pray at daybreak, then had headed into town at around 1:00 p.m. before returning to the camp to rest. He never woke up.
On May 15, a young man who went by the name Toussaint, a citizen of the Ivory Coast, was found dead at the Lakhmis Akdim camp, also in the Nador region. The 26-year-old migrant had appeared to be in good health, according to testimony given by his companions to AMDH representatives who visited the camp. The cause of death remains unknown.
Conditions at the camps around Nador – and at Bekoya and Lakhmis Akdim in particular – are notoriously poor. The camps, which were established without any official government aid, are little more than a collection of makeshift plastic tents. There is no running water, no sanitation facilities and precious little (if any) aid offered to the camps’ inhabitants. Yet, the camps offer a kind of refuge from the local police, who conduct frequent street sweeps in the urban center of Nador, arresting those found without legal papers.
Despite these grim realities, Morocco’s migration policy has extended a lifeline by offering some undocumented migrants the chance to regularize their immigration statuses in the country. During the first regularization campaign in 2014, 27,000 people applied for residency; 25,000 of them, or about 90 percent, ended up receiving renewable one-year residency permits. A second campaign, launched in late 2016, regularized the statuses of a further 24,000 people.
However, for many of those who were denied regularization or who simply did not have the means to apply, living in limbo in the camps remains the only option.