Stuck in Casablanca airport's 'transit zone' for 43 days

Kokoba de Jacques in the transit zone at the Mohamed V airport in Casablanca, Morocco.
 
It sounds like a bad remake of “The Terminal”, a film whose main character, played by Tom Hanks, was forced to live in a New York airport because he lacked a visa. However, the case of Kokoba De Jacques, a refugee from Ivory Coast, is completely real. On Wednesday, he was finally let back into Morocco, where he lives, after spending 43 days stuck in the transit zone of Casablanca’s international airport.
 
De Jacques has lived in Morocco since 2012, when he left Ivory Coast during the post-electoral crisis. After a journey of several months, he ended up in Morocco, where his countrymen encouraged him to plead his case with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Jacques has been registered at the UNHCR as an asylum seeker since February 2012, and recently requested an authorization to leave the territory, which he was granted. But after a four-day trip to Mauritania, the border police would not allow him back into Morocco. Starting on February 11, Kokoba de Jacques was forced to live in the transit zone of the Mohamed V airport in Casablanca, Morocco’s second largest city. He was finally let back onto Moroccan soil on Wednesday.
 
Kokoba de Jacques in a waiting area in the Casablanca airport’s transit zone.
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“I couldn’t shower for a month and a half”

The police at the airport asked me to show proof of my place of residence and financial resources before allowing me back onto Moroccan soil. But I live in Casablanca with my fiancée who is putting me up – I even have a document from city hall to that effect. As for financial resources, I work in a call centre (which pays me under the table), and I can survive independently from what I earn, though my fiancée’s earnings were officially declared as resources that could fully provide for me. Moreover, as an Ivorian, I have the right to live in Morocco for three months without any kind of visa. In any case, the border police were really overzealous. Thankfully, the UNHRC provided me with a lawyer to convince the authorities to let me back in.
 
This document explains that Morocco cannot send De Jacques back to Ivory Coast because he is under the protection of the UNHCR.
 
"I was embarrassed to be seen in this state by other travellers"
 
 
While I waited, I tried to pass the time as best I could. When I arrived, I had roughly 100 euros, which I have quickly spent on meals. Since there are no restaurants in the transit zone, the airport police went to buy me food in the arrival or departure zones. I will say that they treated me well. Since I ran out of money, during the last two weeks, they brought me bread and cheese every day. But it’s hard to live without being able to change clothes, as I was not even able to pick up my luggage. Nor was I able to take a shower during all this time. I washed myself as best I can in the bathrooms, but I was embarrassed to be seen in this state by other travellers.
 
Some were intrigued at the sight of me living in this place, surrounded by some of my possessions, so I told them my story. Sometimes, they were willing to take a picture of me to help get the word out about my situation. The rest of the time, I was on my computer trying to keep in touch with my relatives, or walking aimlessly in the hallways. At night, I set up a little corner in which to sleep. At first, I slept on metallic chairs that I pushed against a wall. Later, I was able to get my hands on some cardboard boxes. I spread a small plane blanket over the boxes, and this became my bed.
 
De Jacques eating his daily sandwich.
 
De Jacques sleeping on waiting room chairs...
 
...and later, sleeping on carboard boxes.
 
During my long wait, several airport policemen told me it was a mistake to take this matter to court. According to them, the authorities would take this as a personal affront and would only let me enter Morocco when they feel like it. Unfortunately, racism here is very real, even when you think you might be protected by your refugee status. None of this would have happened if I were not from Sub-Saharan Africa.
 
Racism against Sub-Saharan Africans is very real in Morocco. The anti-racism collective called “Papers for all” has recently launched a campaign called “Ma smitich ezzi” (“My name is not ‘black man’”) to try to stop racial discrimination in the kingdom.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Sarra Grira (@SarraGrira).
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