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The shifting circumstances of sub-Saharan migrants in Morocco

Recently, Morocco’s border with Spain has been in the spotlight due to an important increase in the number of migrants crossing the border from Morocco into Spain. However, one side of the story is often overlooked and that is the fact that a growing number of sub-Saharan migrants have also settled in Morocco. In this article we will give a brief overview of how the situation of sub-Saharan migrants has evolved in the past five years.

"No more slavish laws". Anti-racism and xenophobia protests in Madrid 2017.

2013 was a dreadful year for sub-Saharan migrants and many reports criticized the way Morocco was treating them, notably in the North of the country. There was a strong international mobilization on the issue of the mistreatment of sub-Saharan migrants in Morocco, relayed by several reports from civil society and international organizations and through documentaries. Following the critics of human rights abuses of sub-Saharan migrants in Morocco, a shift of its migration policy has been made towards a more “humanist” and less repressive approach.

On 6 November 2013, the King called for a new global policy on immigration and asylum and recognised Morocco, for the first time, as a country of immigration declaring that there was a need to review the migration and asylum policy. The National Strategy for Immigration and Asylum (SNIA) concluded in 2014 materialises this new policy orientation. The strategy significantly impacts the Moroccan policy and legal framework on migration and asylum issues: legally, because it aims at developing and adopting three new laws on migration, asylum and human trafficking; practically, through the modification of policy and therefore the behaviour of Moroccan authorities towards immigrants and refugees.

Migrants boarding small boats in Moulay Bousselham. Morocco in 2018.

Following the launch of the new migration policy, two main developments occurred: First, Morocco reopened the Office for Refugees and the Stateless [Bureau des réfugiés et apatrides] (BRA) on 25 September 2013. Since then, the BRA has been validating individuals that have been granted refugee status by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This has important consequences for asylum seekers, as being recognised by the Moroccan government as refugees gives them access to a residency permit. A residency permit will allow refugees to legally work in Morocco as well as allowing access to public services and access to legal housing. Second, two regularisation campaigns for migrants were introduced. By the end of the first regularisation period in December 2014, 23,096 out of 27,332 migrants had been regularised and 643 out of 2937 asylum seekers had been granted refugee cards by the UNHCR. A second regularisation campaign was introduced in December 2016 and lasted until December 2017.[i]

Additionally, the implementation of the SNIA lead to improvements in the access to labour for regular migrants in addition to other socio-economic rights such as minimum healthcare and education. Even though a lot still has to be done regarding migrants’ access to rights in Morocco, these developments could influence migrants to settle in Morocco. These migrants may have initially only transited through Morocco in the hopes of entering Europe. According to the literature as well as a migrants’ representative in Morocco, the strengthening of borders combined with an improvement in immigrants’ situation and rights, may transform the transit situation into a more permanent settlement. However, no official numbers are available to verify this hypothesis.

Author: Dr. Fanny Tittel-Mosser

[i] Official numbers of regularisations are not yet available.

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