The FRANCE 24 Observers team has received a series of videos, filmed between late September and early October 2018, showing sub-Saharan African migrants detained in a police station in Tangier, Morocco. Crammed in between the station’s courtyard and its car park, they are detained there for days and sometimes even weeks while they wait to be deported. All of this happens without their going through the official judicial process. A Cameroonian man who was deported back to Yaoundé, Cameroon’s capital, told us about his experience.
In one video, we can see a crowd of people in the courtyard of the Tangier police station. A lot of the men are bare-chested, waiting at the entrance of the car park, and shouting in unison: “Freedom! Freedom!” In another video, there’s a man lying unconscious on the ground, blood pooling by his head, surrounded by other migrants, while policemen nearby watch over the crowd. The last two videos show the migrants inside the car park, with a few foam mattresses and light blankets. In one of the videos, they are protesting in front of the police officers again, still with the same chant (“Freedom!”), while in another, they are crammed in together, pressed inside a carefully barricaded area.
Video filmed by one of the migrants detained in the Tangier central police station. They are protesting against police abuse.
Video filmed by one of the migrants inside the Tangier central police station’s car park.
"Even if we’re black, we’re still human"
These videos were filmed over the last few weeks in the central police station in Tangier. Stéphane, a Cameroonian migrant who arrived in Morocco in 2014, spent over a month in the police station before being deported to the Cameroonian capital Yaoundé on October 17, 2018. He spoke out against police brutality and arbitrary police procedures:
When I arrived in Morocco, I worked at first as a seasonal worker doing fruit picking. But I wanted to find a more stable job so I stopped doing that and became a waiter. I did all of the necessary steps with the United Nations Refugee Agency, and I managed to get a certificate proving that it was legal for me to stay and work in Morocco.
"I showed all of the documents that I had, but the police didn’t care"
My wife, who is also from Cameroon, became pregnant at the beginning of the year. She went to the Mohamed V Hospital in Tangier for her check-ups, and I went with her when I could. We were arrested when we were leaving the hospital after one of her appointments. Our certificates from the UN Refugee Agency had been out of date since August [the certificates are valid for a year, after which they are renewable], but I had my work contract on me. I showed it to the police, as well as the refugee document, and tried to explain that I just hadn’t had the time to renew it, but they didn’t care. They took both of us to the police station.
Video filmed by one of the migrants in the courtyard of the central police station in Tangier, while waiting to be deported to their country of origin. They are protesting against police brutality and an attack on one of the men, who fell unconscious after being hit with a police baton.
The police arrested me on September 11 and put me in their records on September 17. I found myself piled in with around sixty other migrants in the courtyard of the police station. We slept there, outside, without covers or mattresses. We were allowed three pieces of bread a day: one in the morning, a second one at 3pm and a third one at 9pm. That’s all. We had to bribe the police officers in order to have any other food.
"I don’t even have any more money to get back home"
After a few days of this, we had had enough of sleeping outside and on the ground. We were cold and aching everywhere. We started to protest and shout in the courtyard. The police officers then decided to move us into the car park. Meanwhile, they started deporting us. First they started with West Africans – Senegalese, Ivorians, Malians. They took away a group of four or five people every day. By the end, there were mostly only Cameroonians left; they had brought in many more of us since my arrest.
Video filmed by one of the migrants detained in the car park of the police station in Tangier, Morocco.
I was deported to Yaoundé in the evening of October 17. At first, I refused to go, and the police beat me. Finally they managed to force me into the airplane with my hands in handcuffs. I didn’t have any money left, and I had none of my things with me. When I arrived in the airport in Yaoundé, I had to spend the night there waiting for a friend to come and get me the next day. I’m not from Yaoundé originally but from Douala. I don’t know how I’m going to get home again, nor who is going to provide for my brothers and sisters from now on.
As for my wife, I know that she was deported over land to Tiznit, in the south of Morocco. She didn’t have any money on her, and so she sold her phone in order to get back to Tangier. She went back to the apartment that we were sharing with five other Cameroonians and my cousin is looking after her. I don’t know if I’ll be able to get back to her. It’s really sad.
"It’s not up to the security forces to put in place deportation procedures"
It’s not unusual for North African countries like Morocco and Algeria to carry out repatriation operations for migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, as part of the International Organization for Migration’s Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration programme. But Stéphane’s deportation from Morocco was carried out illegally, according to Abdelmonem Al-Rifai, the president of the Tangier office of the Morocco Association for Human Rights:
These deportations are happening as part of a campaign launched by the Moroccan authorities in the north of the country about three months ago. It’s not a matter of individual expulsions, as is the normal procedure, but group deportations. Lots of these people are simply sent further away from the northern border, which is near Spanish territory [Editor’s Note: the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla], towards remote parts of the country in the south. They’re often sent there in inhumane conditions, carted off in rundown buses without water or enough food. Others are deported via plane.
There’s no real infrastructure in the country to accommodate migrants who are being deported, and the living conditions in the centres connected to the courts are inhumane, which explains why the police choose to keep people in the police stations. But there’s no budget set aside to feed them or look after them, so the migrants have to bribe police officers.
Normally you can’t deport someone from a country without them first going before a judge. It’s the job of the courts to order someone to leave the country; it’s not for the country’s security forces to start sending people back. That’s why we say that this operation is illegal. It’s not even a security operation; it’s just politics. The police don’t pay any attention to the status of the migrants in question, whether they have certificates giving them the right to remain that are just out of date, or even if they’re in the process of requesting asylum.
When contacted by FRANCE 24, the Tangier police station did not want to comment