Moroccan taekwondo champ throws medals overboard during illegal sea-crossing

Screenshot of the Moroccan taekwondo champion's video taken during his journey to the Canary Islands.
Screenshot of the Moroccan taekwondo champion's video taken during his journey to the Canary Islands.

A video showing a Moroccan taekwondo champion throwing his medal into the sea during his clandestine journey to the Canary Islands started circulating on social media last week. He is not the first disillusioned Moroccan athlete who has decided to take the migration route to Europe.

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The mobile phone footage posted online shows Anouar Boukharsa, a 27-year-old Moroccan athlete who has won numerous regional and national taekwondo championships, throwing one of his medals into the ocean while making an illegal crossing from Morocco to the Canary Islands (a Spanish archipelago off the Moroccan coast).

After tossing his medal over the side of the makeshift wooden boat, Boukharsa flashes a V-for-Victory sign. The Moroccan press has been talking about this video since it was first posted online on October 22.

Boukharsa told the InfoMigrants team that he decided to migrate to Spain after becoming disillusioned with Morocco.

“I threw three medals into the ocean,” he said. “I didn’t want these Moroccan titles anymore. I participated in numerous competitions but I always felt useless and ignored.”

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On October 19, Boukharsa set sail from Souira, a town on Morocco’s Atlantic coast not far from his home region of Safi. His group spent four days at sea before finally reaching Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands, on October 23.

“That was the only way I knew for sure I could get to Spain,” he said. “I chose that route because it is close to Safi [his home region].”

Earlier last week, a photo appeared online showing another Moroccan athlete -- former footballer Hicham Kellouch – also making a clandestine journey to Europe. In Morocco, this journey is called a “hrig.”

Many young Moroccans who undertake this journey post videos and information about their crossings online.

A former Atlas Lion Cub decides to migrate.

In August 2018, Meriem Bouhid, a forward for the national women’s football team, the Lionesses of Atlas, took advantage of a tournament in Spain to simply stay there illegally.

A month later, 20-year-old Ali Hababa, the captain of Safi’s Espoirs de l'Olympique [Olympic hopes] reached Spain after making the dangerous Mediterranean crossing by boat.

That same year, 21-year-old Ayoub Mabrouk, Morocco’s three-time kickboxing champion, was found dead on a Spanish beach after his boat sank during the crossing.

Moroccan authorities reported that they intercepted on average about 32,000 attempts to migrate to Europe clandestinely each year between 2003 and 2015. However, that number more than doubled by 2016, when there were about 65,000 interceptions.

Southern Morocco, especially the Tiznit region (located to the south of Safi), has become a hotspot for crossings to the Canary Islands. On Sunday, October 20, Spanish rescue services saved 33 people attempting to make the crossing from Morocco by boat and brought them to the port in Los Cristianos, located to the south of Tenerife.

The Spanish interior ministry reported that, between January and mid-September of this year, 831 undocumented migrants arrived in the Canary Islands, which marked a 37 per cent increase from last year. During the same period, 63 different boats either arrived in the Canary Islands or were saved by Spanish rescue services. That number has doubled since 2018

This article was originally written in French by Maëva Poulet for