Cablegate: African Migrants in Morocco: On the Edge Of


DE RUEHCL #0182/01 2581851
P 151851Z SEP 09




E.O. 12958: N/A


REF: Algiers 00463, RABAT 00435


1. (SBU) Every year thousands of sub-Saharan
migrants enter eastern Morocco from Algeria intent
on making the final push to Spain. While some are
successful, many more end up languishing in the
transit towns or settling into longer term residence
in Morocco. Poloff visited the camps of clandestine
migrants living in the forests of northeastern
Morocco near the Algerian border and heard first
hand stories of their migration and treatment by the

2. (SBU) The Government of Morocco (GOM) has responded to
the influx of sub-Saharan migrants largely by
detaining and expelling them into the desert area
bordering Algeria without supplies or protection.
The migrants, some of whom reportedly die in this no
man's land, often end up returning to Morocco on
foot. The poor state of relations between Morocco
and Algeria and the closed land border mean that the
expelled migrants are caught in an impossible
situation and frequently used as a political weapon.

3. (SBU) This message, the first in a two-part
series, will look at the realities on the ground for
migrants living in the eastern city of Oujda, the
means and routes of migration, and the GOM's
expulsion policy. A second message will examine the
evolution of migration in Morocco, cooperation with
European Union states, and the GOM's policies to
stem the flow of clandestine migration.


4. (SBU) Oujda, situated just 14 kilometers from
Algeria, is the principal border crossing and last
stop for thousands of sub-Saharan migrants on the
final leg of their overland journey to Europe. At
the edge of the city limits is an open air garbage
dump bordered on one side by the aptly named
neighborhood of Masakeen (the unfortunate ones) and
on the other an extensive forest of pine trees which
stretches for kilometers in all directions. The
forest shelters nearly a thousand migrants waiting
for the opportunity or money to have smugglers
arrange their onward passage.

5. (SBU) The migrants live in destitute and crude
conditions in the forests because they are within
easy walking distance of the city and yet relatively
safe from the reach of the Moroccan security forces.
The pine trees, planted in symmetrical lines, sprout
chest-high making long-range visibility nearly
impossible. As an additional measure, many of the
camps employ dogs to alert the migrants to the
arrival of the police. Well-worn paths crisscross
the forest and the first campsite is little more
than a ten minute walk from the city. Poloff,
guided by Diacharis Poudiougo, a Malian doctoral
student, and Amadou Dialli, a Guinean student,
visited the camps in August to meet the migrants and
see their conditions first hand.


6. (SBU) Nigerians are the largest nationality
present in the forests, but poloff also met with
Malians, Burkinabes, Guineans, Cameroonians and
Congolese. Their living conditions are rudimentary
and rough. Plastic bottles, used to carry water
from the city, and small metal pots for cooking over
open fires are strewn alongside the accumulated
litter of human living. Their makeshift shelters,
constructed of tree branches with a plastic tarp for

cover and bedding underneath, offer minimal
protection in the winter months when the temperature
fluctuates between 4 and 8 degrees Celsius. In
addition to the forest, a couple hundred migrants
have taken up residence squatting within the campus
of the Mohammed I University of Oujda. These
migrants, who tend to be rougher and more aggressive
than those in the forest, are afforded a degree of
protection since the security forces are reticent to
enter the university grounds during daytime hours in
order to avoid provoking the students by their

7. (SBU) The police make raids every three to four
months into the forest and university campus,
typically in the early hours of the morning. They
try to capture those they can though most migrants,
alerted to their arrival, disappear deeper into the
forest. The security forces then ransack and burn
the campsites and makeshift tents. Poloff observed
scorched rock, melted plastic and rubbish scattered
throughout the forest providing plentiful evidence
of numerous old campsites burned to the ground.
Poudiougo contacted poloff to report that on
September 8, police conducted an early morning raid
of the campus and forest areas in which they
arrested eight migrants and destroyed the campsites.


8. (SBU) The total number of sub-Saharan migrants in
Morocco is difficult to know with any accuracy. A
study commissioned by the International Organization
for Migration (IOM) estimated that there are
approximately 10,000 to 30,000 illegal sub-Saharan
migrants in Morocco at any given time. The total
number of migrants in Oujda, according to estimates
by local NGOs, fluctuates between 1,200 and 2,000
and has reportedly increased in recent years.
Poudiougo estimated there are nearly 350 people
living in the forest visited by poloff. He also
noted that there is another forest campsite with an
additional 300 people nearby, and a transit camp
near the Algerian border known as "smelly waters"
with another 150-200 migrants. The university campus
area houses approximately 120, though this group is
among the most visible concentration of migrants.
Although sub-Saharans are the clear majority, the
NGO Association Beni Znassen for Culture,
Development and Solidarity (ABCDS) reported there
have also been cases of migrants entering from
Algeria originating from Bangladesh, Syria, the
Philippines, India, and Pakistan.


9. (SBU) The majority of migrants enter Morocco
after having travelled a well-worn overland path
that includes a stop in Gao in Mali for those coming
from the western part of Africa and Agadez in Niger
for more southern origins. In Algeria the main
route takes migrants through the town of
Tamanghasset (REF A) and on to Ghardaia and
eventually the border town of Maghnia. The migrants
spoke bitterly of the Algerian security forces whom
they accused of being more aggressive and violent
than their Moroccan counterparts. The Algerians,
they conceded, generally allowed them to pass with
minimum difficulty knowing that their final
destination is Morocco. The border area between
Oujda is relatively porous and smuggled goods help
sustain the local economy (REF B). Migrants
reported that it is relatively easy to arrange
transport and most pay between 50 and 100 euros.


10. (SBU) Once safely ensconced in the forests, the
migrants typically look to pool their money and form
groups of ten or more people and to make contact
with a smuggler. The fee depends on the means of
transport but averages between 2,000 to 4,000 euros.
Most opt for a sea crossing in "pateras" or small
wooden boats launched from numerous small beaches on
Morocco's Mediterranean coastline. Others try to be
smuggled across the border hidden in secret
compartments and among the freight of a car or truck
through the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.
Since 2000, the Spanish government has installed a
sophisticated command and control system called the
Integrated System of External Vigilance (SIVE) which
consists of numerous radars and infrared cameras to
track and intercept approaching ships. The success
of SIVE on the Andalusian coastline and the Canary
Islands has made it even more difficult for the
migrants to arrive undetected. Despite the risks of
getting caught, the migrants persist because they
know firsthand the stories of people who have
successfully made the passage.


11. (SBU) Just as Oujda is the principal entry point
for migrants, it is also the main point used by the
GOM to expel migrants from Morocco. While migrants
detained in Western Sahara are expelled into
Mauritania, all others are bussed to Oujda,
consolidated at the commissary jail, and expelled to
Algeria. According to reports by migrants and NGOs,
once the GOM has collected a sufficient number of
prisoners, approximately twenty to thirty people,
the migrants are driven to a Gendarmerie outpost
near the Algerian border at nightfall. They are then
stripped of any valuables, typically cellular phones
and whatever petty cash they might have on their
person, and instructed to walk into the desert in
the direction of the Algerian border. The Algerian
border guards are generally aware of the expulsions
by the Moroccan forces and they wait on the other
side to discourage the migrants from reentering
Algeria. Trapped in a no man's land that stretches
for several kilometers, the migrants invariably
turn around and walk back to Oujda by following the
power lines. Poloff spoke to a migrant who said he
had returned that morning to the forest. He had
walked for two days to return to the forest after
being expelled at the border. Many of the migrants
poloff spoke with shared a similar story.

12. (SBU) The NGOs and migrants reported that women
and children were also sent out into the desert
without protection or supplies. Juliet, a young
Nigerian woman, told poloff that she was expelled to
the border area during the winter of early 2009
along with a group of people that included a woman
who had recently given birth. It was very cold, she
recounted, and the child died from exposure on the
return journey.

13. (SBU) Some of the migrants claimed that the
women were separated from the men and sexually
assaulted by the security forces before being
expelled. While NGOs in Oujda expressed skepticism
that the security forces engage in systematic rape
of the migrants, they recounted that in 2006 there
was a well-publicized incident of rape. The
migrants also confirmed, though none had first hand
experience, the existence of roving criminal gangs
and smugglers that operate within the no man's land
of the border area and prey on migrants by robbing
them of any remaining valuables and raping the

--------------------------------------------- ---
--------------------------------------------- ---

14. (SBU) In spite of the many hardships and dangers

they face, the migrants continue to come, motivated
by the simple fact that every week dozens of their
compatriots successfully make the passage to Europe.
The migrants told poloff that just one week before
his visit 23 people, including four women, made it
undetected to the Spanish coast. Even those who
have previously failed are determined to make it
across no matter the cost or effort. A Nigerian
man, Francis, told poloff that he paid 3,200 Euro to
be smuggled across the border hidden among produce
on the back of a truck entering the Spanish enclave
of Ceuta. He was discovered at the border, brought
to Oujda, and expelled to the Algerian border. He
returned to the forest outside of Oujda because in
his own words, "I have no other choice." Another
Nigerian, Friday, told poloff that he spent nearly
five years working in Madrid illegally before he was
discovered and deported back home. He made the
overland journey across Africa for the second time
and is now biding his time in the forest waiting for
the next opportunity to cross.

15. (SBU) The migrants repeatedly spoke in terms of
absolutes and used words like "honor" and "shame"
when discussing the imperative to reach Europe.
Most told of selling family land or possessions in
order to finance the trip and indicated that their
extended family is depending on the success of their
reaching Spain. One man simply said, "I would
rather die than fail."


16. (SBU) NGOs say there is little evidence that the
migrants are victims of traffickers. Rather, the
vast majority of migrants move of their own
volition. Anecdotal evidence indicates that many of
the migrant women engage in prostitution to make a
living and some, especially in Rabat and Casablanca,
have fallen into conditions of forced prostitution
by criminal gangs. On the Moroccan side there is no
mechanism in place to identify trafficking victims
or make an asylum claim prior to expulsion.

17. (SBU) COMMENT: Morocco faces many challenges
trying to cope with the influx of illegal migrants
that can only be met by cooperating with its
neighbors and regional allies. Instead of fostering
these partnerships, the GOM has engaged in a policy
of forced expulsions which raise serious human
rights concerns. There is solid empirical evidence
that the number of African migrants to Morocco has
increased since 2000 and will likely continue in the
future. UNHCR (see septel) and some NGOs have urged
the GOM to take control of the migration challenges
it faces by adopting clear refugee and asylum
adjudication procedures -- which would represent a
crucial first step toward a policy that balances
security and humanitarian concerns.


© Scoop Media

World Headlines


Save The Children: Tonga Volcano Ash And Smoke Cause Concern For Air And Water Safety
Families in Tonga are at risk of exposure to unsafe air and water due to ash and smoke from the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano that erupted on Saturday, reports Save the Children...

Sudan: 15 Attacks On Health Facilities And Workers In Two Months

With the crisis escalating in Sudan, there have been 15 reports of attacks on healthcare workers and health facilities since last November, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday... More>>

Kazakhstan: Bachelet Urges Peaceful Resolution Of Grievances
Amid alarming reports of deadly violence in Kazakhstan, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Thursday urged all, including security forces, protesters and others, to refrain from violence and to seek a peaceful resolution of grievances... More>>

Tigray: Agencies Suspend Aid As ‘Scores’ Are Killed Due To Airstrikes
Recent airstrikes on camps for internally displaced persons and refugees in Tigray, northern Ethiopia, have reportedly killed scores of civilians, including children, and left many more injured... More>>

UN News: For 25th Year In A Row, Greenland Ice Sheet Shrinks

2021 marked the 25th year in a row in which the key Greenland ice sheet lost more mass during the melting season, than it gained during the winter, according to a new UN-endorsed report issued on Friday... More>>

Afghanistan: Economy In ‘Freefall’, Threatening To Take Entire Population With It

Afghanistan’s economy is in “free fall”, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator told a special meeting on Sunday, warning that if decisive and compassionate action is not taken immediately, it may “pull the entire population with it”... More>>