SWM 2014: The dangers of living as an undocumented migrant in Morocco

Case study by Ioana Moraru

In August 2013 Ismaila Faye, a 31-year-old Senegalese, was stabbed to death on a bus after he refused to vacate his seat next to a Moroccan woman. The murder, widely condemned as an act of racism by the Senegalese community and local rights groups, is just one example of an endemic problem in the country: the mistreatment of its sub-Saharan population. Since the 1990s, Morocco has become an increasingly popular transit country for migrants seeking a better life in Europe. But while poverty, political turmoil, civil conflict and persecution continue to push large numbers of sub-Saharans to leave their countries, strict European border controls and the high costs of migration have meant that in practice many remain in Morocco for years.

The marginalization of undocumented migrants, who receive no support or official recognition from the government, not only undermines their access to housing, employment and basic services, but also places them outside the formal justice system. In fact, undocumented migrants face widespread discrimination at all levels of society – including from the police and government officials. Local attitudes to sub-Saharan migrants are often characterized by deep-rooted prejudice and stereotypes, associating migrants with terrorism, AIDS and criminality. These negative representations have also been reinforced by the media.

Due to their clandestine status, undocumented migrants are not only underpaid by employers and overcharged for basic necessities such as food and accommodation, they are also unable to benefit from police protection or make use of official channels of complaint. This makes them especially vulnerable. Recent research and interviews have shown that attacks and intimidation are regular events, encouraged by their lack of formal recognition in the country. In the words of a 2013 Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) report, ‘The fact that sub-Saharan migrants are classified as “illegal” means that the majority live with the constant fear of arrest and expulsion and the ever present threat of violence, abuse and exploitation.’

This is why other sub-Saharan migrants viewed Faye’s murder not as an isolated incident, but part of a broader pattern of racism and discrimination in the country. In the wake of his death, hundreds of Senegalese congregated in Rabat to protest against racism. Moroccans also went online to voice their support for the migrant community. Nevertheless, until the root issues of exclusion and ‘illegality’ are addressed, Morocco’s sub-Saharan population will continue to live with the constant threat of violence.

This article appears in MRG’s annual flagship report State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2014. View the full report.

Photo: Senegalese women are particularly vulnerable to hate crimes in Morocco. Credit: Rbbaird

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Date: 19/06/2014




State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2014
Racism/Discrimination/Hate speech

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