On 28 June, Moroccan human rights associations Association lumière sur l’émigration clandestine au Maghreb (ALECMA), Groupe antiraciste d’accompagnement et de défense des étrangers et migrants (GADEM), Association marocaine des droits de l’Homme (AMDH), and Forum des alternatives Maroc (FMAS) launched the “Number 9: Stop police violence at the borders!” campaign. Campaign Number 9 denounces the violence that migrants (mostly from sub-Saharan African countries) face when they attempt to access Europe via the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. These migrants are most often without the proper documentation necessary to enter by legal means. Migrants routinely face beatings, the theft of their belongings (mobile phones and cash, for example), the destruction of their material, the confiscation of their identification documents, illegal refoulement back to Morocco when they have already crossed to Spain, or deportation to the harsh desert area between Algeria and Morocco. These are the most common offenses, but represent only a few of the numerous other violations of their physical integrity, dignity, and rights. In the face of increased violent incidents in the borderlands, a petition against institutional violence against migrants in Morocco was launched on 31 July 2013.
The perpetrators targeted in this campaign are not the criminal “human trafficker” or “smuggler,” the two ill-defined straw men used in political European discourse to legitimize repressive measures. Rather, it is the direct violence of Spanish and Moroccan authorities, especially the Spanish Civil Guard and the Moroccan Auxiliary Forces that are condemned in the campaign. In fact, the externalization of European borders onto the southern side of the Mediterranean (to countries such as Morocco or Libya) is often justified as being for the sake of the “victims.” But by making borders more impenetrable, it also renders them more deadly.
The title of the campaign, dedicated to the memory of Clément, a Cameroonian migrant, refers to the football shirt that Clément wears, bearing the number nine, which is the number of a striker in a football team. Migrants in Morocco often refer to themselves as the strikers: for them, scoring goals means bringing a better life to their families.
As recalled in the campaign documents, Clément participated in a group attempt to cross the border between the Moroccan city Nador and the Spanish city Melilla on 11 March. Along with one hundred twenty to two hundred other sub-Saharan migrants, he left the improvised camp in the Gourougou forest near the border at two in the morning. The migrants waited until the prayer call at four thirty to climb on makeshift ladders over the razor-topped fences.
Migrants who already endure very harsh daily living conditions in the forests described what the intervention of the Spanish and Moroccan forces, as the “hell,” or the “apocalypse.” Migrants who managed to cross were shot with blanks, seized, handcuffed and beaten by the Civil Guard. They were then loaded into Toyota trunks and brought back to the Moroccan side of the border to be handed over to the Moroccan authorities along with some “small envelopes.” Migrants in the borderlands often decry the practice of illegally returning migrants to Morocco in exchange for money. There, helpless and on their knees, many received more blows with iron bars, clamps, and sticks from the Auxiliary Forces. These paramilitary officers aimed at the migrants’ heads, breaking limbs and crushing faces with their boots. At the end of the ordeal, most of the migrants were loaded into vans to be deported to the Algerian border. From the border, migrants made their way back to Morocco on foot.
According to the different witness accounts compiled in the campaign documents, only about twenty-five of the most wounded, “those who really could not walk,” were brought to the El Hassani hospital in Nador. Among these was Clément, a father who had left Cameroon in the hopes of providing a better life for his family.
With a broken arm and leg and suffering from a head wound, Clément was admitted to the hospital with twenty-four other people, three of whom were in comas. The campaign notes relate how hospital workers refused Clément a scan, as they deemed his wounds “not serious [enough]” Discharged from hospital the same day, without having received any sound medical care, he returned to the forest. There his remaining companions saw his health deteriorate. Clément was no longer eating; he would complain about feeling cold and not get out of his tent. On 16 March, Clément’s health took a turn for the worse. People around him called for an ambulance, but the ambulance never arrived. Clément, for lack of adequate medical care, eventually died from the injuries inflicted by Moroccan and Spanish forces, leaving his wife and three children in Cameroon.
On the day of Clément’s death, Sara Creta, an Italian filmmaker and Sylvin Mbarga, a Cameroonian journalist and member of the migrant association ALECMA, were present in the Gourougou forest. They filmed Clément’s agony and death: Clément died surrounded by other migrants, many on crutches and most visibly injured over their heads and bodies, as they described the daily abuses they face in the forest and at the border. This video forms the basis of the Number 9 campaign, and it has received international coverage by La Repubblica, Mediapart, El Pais, and Yabiladi.
It is important to contextualize the events which led to Clément’s death. This tragedy is not an isolated incident. Moroccan NGO’s have noted that there have been some improvements for migrants in Morocco since the autumn 2005 Ceuta and Melilla events. At that time, at least eleven migrants perished and many more were seriously injured during group attempts at crossing the Spanish-Moroccan border. This tragedy occurred after a summer marked with intense police harassment in the forests. However, since the end of 2011, violence against migrants in the borderlands and elsewhere in Morocco is increasing again. Doctors Without Borders, before stopping its activities in northern Morocco, released its “Violence, Vulnerability and Migration: Trapped at the Gates of Europe” report, highlighting the use of violence by Spanish and Moroccan authorities. The NGO interviewed over one hundred ninety migrants in Nador and Oujda and sixty-three percent affirmed having been victims of violence. Sixty-four percent of those acts of violence were attributed to the Moroccan authorities and seven percent to the Spanish forces.
GADEM and ALECMA pointed out that although Clément’s death was documented on video, it was not anecdotal. There have been numerous cases of serious allegations surrounding the deaths of other migrants in the borderlands as a result of beatings or falls from the cliffs after being chased by the Auxiliary Forces. Eric William, spokesman for ALECMA, mentioned to me several other cases:
Last year another ALECMA member witnessed a cruel scene. Following an attempt at the fence around Melilla, the Spanish forces pushed the migrants to the Moroccan side where they were savagely beaten up. One sub-Saharan already the ground had his skull crushed by a large stone thrown by a Moroccan agent.
A month after the launch of the campaign, violence in northern Morocco has taken even more dramatic proportions as more migrants attempt to cross during the summer. On 23 July, Moroccan media reported that around five hundred migrants attempted to cross the fence around Melilla. One hundred were pushed back by the Civil Guard after having passed to the other side. As Yabiladi reported, Francisco Martinez, Spanish state secretary for interior security, announced that the Spanish government would take measures in collaboration with Morocco, and that some were already “in progress.”
Between 23 and 30 July, hundreds of migrants were arrested in northern Moroccan cities such as Tangier, Taourirt, Nador, El Hoceima, Tetouan, and Ksar Lakbir, according to AMDH. Guillaumar, a Cameroonian migrant present in the neighbourhood of Boukhalef in Tangier told me how he was woken up at dawn:
“It is as if all the Moroccan forces were there: the military, the gendarmerie, the police, the auxiliary forces, the riot police… As if they had come to arrest Bin Laden here. They started to break the doors and beat up people. When people showed them their passports, they said they had not come for the passports. One woman had a passport with a valid visa and they shouted ‘get on the bus.’ I escaped from the terrace, a Moroccan woman opened her door to me, but they stole everything, they took people’s money.”
Several witnesses testified to the violence the Moroccan authorities deployed. According to testimonies, the forces of order broke into people’s apartments around four or five in the morning, left them no time to get ready, confiscated belongings (including money and identification papers) and loaded the migrants onto buses. Women, some of whom were pregnant or with babies, minors, refugees, asylum seekers, and even people carrying valid immigration documents were forced into the buses to be deported. They never visited a single police station or a tribunal. Some were taken near Oujda, and others were abandoned in the countryside between Meknes and Fez. Several people were brought to hospital emergency rooms. A Congolese man in his forties was thrown out of a bus on the motorway during an altercation between migrants and the police. He died six days later. While more migrants try to take advantage of the Ramadan period to cross, recent cases of deaths have been reported near the Spanish enclave of Melilla, including at least one on the Spanish side, in unclear circumstances.
This surge in violence occurs at a time when the European Union is placing greater pressure on Morocco to sign a readmission agreement. The agreement would require Morocco to readmit migrants who irregularly sought entry into Europe via Morocco. Although in actual practice, as the Number 9 campaign denounces, the Spanish Civil Guard routinely returns people to Morocco with little regard for international legislation. On 7 June 2013, a few days after the death of Clément near Nador, Morocco and nine European Union (EU) member states signed in Strasbourg “a joint declaration establishing a Mobility Partnership between the Kingdom of Morocco and the European Union and its Member States.” While several initiatives exist pertaining to Morocco-EU migration, such as facilitated visas for businessmen, students, and researchers, the question of a readmission agreement stands up as the key objective. Indeed, the text crucially entails a return to negotiations over the readmission agreement. As migration scholar Abdelkrim Belguendouz describes in a recent article:
In other words, Morocco is asked to take on the role of the gendarme of Europe to stop migration flows. A role Morocco has always refused to assume (officially) and, according to us, should continue to reject in respect for human rights.
On the same day of the Strasbourg joint declaration signature, human rights associations held a press conference in Rabat. The conference denounced the imprisonment of twenty-one Senegalese citizens arrested at their embassy in Rabat. During the conference, the Senegalese citizens and the associations condemned the complicity of the embassy. The Senegalese embassy called the police on its own citizens who, ironically, had come to protest about police harassment and abuses. Moreover, the associations drew a parallel between these events and the mobility partnership declaration. Indeed the associations fear that such partnership, “illusionary for the majority of Moroccans,” will lead to “politics that is more and more xenophobic and discriminatory towards other African citizens.”
The trade union ODT-Immigrés, the first migrant workers’ trade union in Morocco, declared that discrimination towards migrants, especially sub-Saharan, is illustrated by the Moroccan Interior Ministry’s 14 June statement. Moroccan media widely relayed this statement. Stemming from the observation that some European citizens live and work in Morocco without a residency card, the interior ministry gently recommends them “to fill in the formalities relating to their stay and professional occupations with the concerned administrative services.” The ODT-Immigrés trade union believes this well-mannered call, which was clearly addressed to European migrants residing in Morocco without proper documentation, is a clear evidence of a “double-standard” in the Moroccan government’s dealing with migrants. As Samia Errazzouki described in a recent article on this site, state enforcement of racism in Morocco has a long history. Sub-Saharan migrants, as opposed to European migrants, have not received such courteous administrative reminders from the Benkirane government. Rather, they are beaten and killed.
Ten years ago, the United Nations instituted the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. It is now time for the Moroccan authorities to respect the rights of migrants as safeguarded by all the international conventions ratified by Morocco. It is also important to effectively implement the existing, but limited, protective measures secured by its own national legislation. Migrants’ rights associations in Morocco recently released a “Report on the Application in Morocco of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families,” which highlights the shortcomings in Morocco when it comes to respecting the rights of migrants. Spain and other European countries are de facto cautioning what is happening here. While outrage has emerged in Europe over the controversial “go home or face arrest” campaign in the United Kingdom, hardly any European media has relayed the recent incidents in Morocco, which are akin to a “go home or face death” threat. However, in a recent communiqué, MIGREUROP, a network of researchers and activists that denounces the externalization of Europe’s immigration controls and policies, decries the hunt for migrants. Negotiation attempts have barely punctuated this manhunt unravelling in Morocco and Europe’s deafening silence.
As researcher Mehdi Alioua recalled, migrants who ten years ago were too scared to go out are now part of extensive activist networks. These networks of Europeans, North Africans, and sub-Saharan Africans voice their concerns over the abuses of migrants’ rights and dignity. Migrant associations such as ALECMA need the international community to know what is perpetrated in the name of “fortress Europe.” For Eric William, spokesman of ALECMA, “we activist associations refuse to remain silent. Despite the pressures, we will continue to denounce the violence perpetrated against migrants in Morocco.” In fact, for Camara Laye, coordinator of the Conseil des Migrants Sub-Sahariens au Maroc (CMSM): “It is simple, if we do not do anything, they will suffocate us.”