Migrants from sub-Saharan Africa flee wave of police raids in Morocco
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Families arrested at home in the middle of the night, herded into buses and then abandoned to their fate in towns in the middle of the desert – since June 17, members of the sub-Saharan African community living in Morocco have been contacting our team, frightened by the wave of arrests targeting migrants in Laayoune, a town known as a departure point for people hoping to reach Spain’s Canary Islands.
Koffi (not his real name) is from the Ivory Coast. He lives in a neighbourhood called 25 mars (or March 25) in Laayoune, Morocco. The area is known as a gathering point for migrants hoping to reach Spain’s Canary Islands by crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Koffi says the recent wave of arrests has been particularly violent:
The police arrive in the middle of the night, often around 5am, when everyone is still sleeping. They knock two or three times and if the person doesn’t answer, then they break down the door and make everyone come out, including the women and children. Some people are willing to take great risks to escape the police. A friend broke his arm jumping out of the window.
Most of the people targeted in these raids are from the Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Mali or Togo. A video circulated online showing one man in a hospital room, his arm in a cast, explaining how he hurt himself jumping from the third floor in an attempt to get away from the police in early June.
It was around 6am. We were sleeping when, suddenly, we heard a sound outside. We saw it was the police. They chased us. There were a group of us on the balcony who needed to get down. A few made it down okay but others of us, well…
Initially, I didn’t feel pain but, half an hour later, I was struggling to walk. I didn’t know what to do so I came to the hospital here.
I’ve been in the hospital for ten days now. I should be getting surgery.
Hassan Amari, an activist with the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (known by the acronym AMDH), has been closely following the situation. He says that the police have not been carrying out arrests according to code because they are "entering people’s homes without a warrant issued by a judge".
Several people reported that, after being arrested, they were locked up for several days in a “filthy” detention centre on the outskirts of Laayoune. Some were then herded into buses and brought to other regions, often in the desert near the Algerian border.
On Monday, June 20, Aminata (not her real name) was able to return to Laayoune with several other migrants:
We took a taxi from Tata to Agadir for about 120 dirhams [around 11 euros] per person.
From there, we took a bus to Tantan [Editor’s note: 330 kilometres to the south of Agadir, not far from the Atlantic coast] for 150 dirhams [around 14 euros].
We got off the bus before entering the town of Tantan in order to avoid a police barricade. We walked five kilometres to enter the town.
From there, we took an 'auto-mafia' to return to Laayoune. We had to pay 350 dirhams for the transportation [around 33 euros].
Several migrants we spoke to told us about these so-called "auto-mafias": smugglers who transport people to departure cities like Laayoune and Dakhla, where they can then make an attempt to cross the Atlantic.
'To avoid arrest, we go and hide in the fields'
Koffi took this type of transport several times to get from Agadir to Laayoune.
The 'auto-mafias' transport migrants in 4x4s. They take out the seats in their vehicles to make as much room as possible. Sometimes, they will stuff as many as 14 people in the back of the vehicle. These trips are often expensive. Depending on the distance, they can cost over 100 euros. The drivers are Moroccans and Saudis. They drive on desert trails because if they take the main road, they might be stopped by police or gendarmes.
Koffi says that the Moroccan authorities have made their checks much tougher since they began to cooperate again with Spain on immigration matters in May. This cooperation was interrupted for two years because of the Covid-19 pandemic and a diplomatic crisis between the two countries.
For the past two weeks, the police have been carrying out raids nearly every night in neighbourhoods where migrants live. To avoid arrest, we leave home around 5pm every day and go and hide in the fields. We return home around 10am to sleep and rest a bit. Then we do it all again at 5pm. It’s exhausting.
Moreover, when the police arrest migrants, they take away their phones so that they can’t film them. That way, there is no proof if they are mistreated or beaten. That explains why there are so few arrest videos circulating on social media.
The Moroccan authorities have not released the number of people who have been arrested since the start of the recent wave. Hassan Amari, who works with AMDH, says that he thinks that more than 1,000 migrants have been arrested since the start of June.