Blocked from Europe, migrants settle in Morocco

Migrant vendors sell cell phones on a sidewalk in the Moroccan capital Rabat, in this December 19, 2017 photo. (AFP)
Updated 27 December 2017
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Blocked from Europe, migrants settle in Morocco

RABAT: Unable to reach Europe in search of a better life, Aliou Ndiaye settled in Morocco instead, giving up on his original goal like thousands of other sub-Saharan African migrants.
“Everyone has the right to go to another country to try their luck,” the 31-year-old former fish exporter from Senegal told AFP.
“Lots of people are trying to reach Europe, but some end up staying to make a living.”
Seven out of 10 West Africa-born migrants stay on the continent, according to a December study by the Moroccan think tank OCP Policy Center.
Discouraged by the danger of passing through countries such as Libya and by harsh policies aimed at preventing migrants going to Europe, many settle in “transit” countries including Morocco.
Ndiaye said he gave up after he realized reaching Spain was “too hard.”
He took on several informal jobs and finally set himself up as a street vendor in Rabat, where he expects to remain.
His story illustrates a trend that has gained increasing attention from Moroccan politicians, civil society and researchers.
Morocco has turned from a transit country into a host country for immigrants, according to the government’s High Commission for Planning.
“The Moroccan authorities have switched from a security approach, which criminalized illegal immigration, to a discourse of integration,” said Mehdi Alioua, former head of a group that helped migrants.
He said the new approach involves moving migrants from border regions to the country’s big cities, taking them further from their ultimate goal — reaching Europe.
That has meant that many stay on in Morocco.
Rabat has become home to many sub-Saharan Africans who work at informal markets in the capital, while others, still hoping to make it to Europe, live in informal camps near bus stations and eke out a living by begging.
But their growing numbers have created tensions. In November, residents clashed with sub-Saharan youths living in a camp in Casablanca.
“You can’t be welcomed with open arms everywhere you go,” said Olivier Foutou, a 34-year-old Congolese.
But he called Morocco “the most welcoming country in Africa” and criticized fellow migrants “who think only of Europe and do not want to integrate.”
Like many West Africans, he originally headed to Morocco for study, attracted by the quality of the education system and the possibility of scholarships.
He has stayed ever since, and sings in the choir at Rabat’s cathedral, a meeting point for the city’s small Catholic community.
Another choir member, Jean Baptiste Dago-Gnahou, fled war-ravaged Ivory Coast years ago and ended up in Rabat by “destiny.”
In his 40s, he is teaching French and currently has no plans to return to his homeland.
Papa Demba Mbaye left his job as a teacher in Senegal seven years ago to “live the adventure in Morocco.”
He was attracted by promises of work at a call center, a growing sector in need of French-speakers.
He soon discovered that it was a “job with no future,” and has since established himself as a French teacher.
He has written two books — “The life of a Senegalese in Morocco” and “Seven reasons why I love Morocco.”
Keen to build links between sub-Saharan Africans and Moroccans, he also runs a theater troupe on the outskirts of Rabat.
Despite Morocco’s new migration policies and the kingdom’s efforts to re-integrate with the African Union after decades outside the bloc, it is hard to gain permanent residency.
“I heard the king say on the radio that it would be a lot easier, but I have the impression that he was not heard,” Mbaye said.
The authorities are currently processing some 25,000 residency applications. A similar “regularization” campaign in 2014 saw around 23,000 people gain renewable residency.
It is hard to estimate how many African migrants are living in Morocco, especially as many are clandestine.
Official statistics show that around 35,000 had residency in 2014, according to the OCP Policy Center.
That is slightly above the number of European migrants who came for work or seeking a retirement home under the Moroccan sun.


Iran must stop supporting militias for peace offer to be taken seriously: Expert 

Updated 26 May 2019
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Iran must stop supporting militias for peace offer to be taken seriously: Expert 

  • Iran has for long pursued a policy of outsourcing its meddling to external militias
  • Among these are the Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen

JEDDAH: Iran needs to dismantle its proxies and end its interventions in Arab affairs before seeking to normalize relations with its Gulf neighbors, a political expert told Arab News on Sunday.

“The Gulf countries have been calling for normal relations with their neighbors for years, but their calls have fallen on deaf ears on the Iranian side,” Hamdan Al-Shehri, a political analyst and international relations scholar, said.

Accusing Tehran of “playing games,” Al-Shehri described Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s suggestion that Iran wanted to improve relations with its Gulf neighbors as worthless “as long as it continues meddling in the affairs of other countries, and fails to halt its evil militias from sabotaging and destabilizing regional security.”

Iran has for long pursued a policy of outsourcing its meddling to external militias, which indirectly supports, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen. 

Zarif, who is on a two-day visit to Iraq, told a joint news conference in Baghdad with his Iraqi counterpart Mohammed Al-Hakim that Iran wants to build balanced relations with its Gulf Arab neighbors and had proposed signing a non-aggression pact with them.

However, Al-Shehri said that Tehran needs to address three key issues — its nuclear program; its terrorist militias, which have been spreading chaos in the Gulf region and beyond; and its ballistic missile program — before making any such proposals.

“The question is, would Iran be ready to give up all three files? If they want their neighbors to accept them and normalize relations with them, they have to be honest and stop playing games,” he said.

Al-Shehri described Zarif’s regional tour as an attempt to rally support and send a false message that Iran has friends and allies who would stand by them in their crisis with the US.

“Where were these countries when Iran’s terrorist proxies in Yemen, the Houthi militias, launched missiles and drones attacking the holiest Islamic site in Makkah and other Saudi facilities?” Al-Shehri asked.

Zarif said Iran will defend itself against any military or economic aggression, calling on European states to do more to preserve a nuclear agreement his country signed.

“We will defend (ourselves) against any war efforts, whether it be an economic war or a military one, and we will face these efforts with strength,” he said.

Strains have increased between Iran and the US following this month’s sabotage attack on oil tankers in the Gulf. Washington and other regional allies have concluded that Iran is most likely behind the attacks. 

Tehran has distanced itself from the bombings, but the US has sent an aircraft carrier and extra 1,500 troops to the Gulf, sparking concerns over the risk of conflict in the volatile region.