Southern border (III) | Migrant life in the suburbs of Casablanca: “We leave you the cities so you don’t step on our mountains”

The periphery of Casablanca contains too much frustration. On a wall, a graffiti with the word “boza” is more than a symbol, it means victory and is what migrants chant when they arrive in Europe. Here, perhaps someone wrote it to celebrate her arrival in Morocco after a painful journey through an odyssey of painful borders.

This is not our destiny. We don’t have a job and they will never give us the papers. We barely managed to eat a piece of bread and water”, Salim clarifies to A 23-year-old Sudanese man, whose name means peaceful, who fled war and misery in Sudan three years ago and now wanders the streets of the African country.

The abandonment of sidewalks and buildings in this neighborhood equates to safety for people from sub-Saharan Africa. They lie down and sleep oblivious to the hustle and bustle of the Moroccan economic capital. “Here we are safe,” acknowledges Omar as he guides us through some humble streets.

In a field a group plays soccer. “They don’t tell us anything, the problem is when we leave here, the police call us out“, Add. Every corner is full of stories full of the patience that is needed in a transit country like this. “Here the key is waiting. We don’t set a date, but we don’t stop trying. We want to reach Europe”, says Salim.

“The only thing that is clear is that I do not want to return to a place at war”

There are bodies that are made of war. What they have left behind only pushes them to look ahead. “The only thing that is clear is that I don’t want to return to a place where there is war,” the 23-year-old says forcefully. He is aware that he meets all the requirements to request refuge, but he believes that no one listens to his voice.

Being born where he was born leads him to put up with everything, although there are worse moments, such as the arrests and kidnappings in Libya or the returns to Niger from Algeria. But also the violence that occurred in the past June 24 in the attempt to jump the Melilla fence. Some 1,700 people tried to cross into Europe and were repressed with “excessive use of force” by Morocco and Spain, as the UN has denounced.

Melilla describes Morocco’s performance in jumping the fence as “disproportionate”: “It’s outrageous”

Some even managed to set foot on European soil, but were returned and handed over by the Spanish authorities to the Moroccan. A fact that different organizations have denounced and a reality that is confirmed by the testimonies of what they also call “black Friday”.

The police action has been so harsh that its trace is on these bodies, the white bandages on black skins are striking. Wounds that bleed over the scars of previous ones. Their birthplace leads them to put up with everything. “I left the war when I was 14 years old and now I am 16 years old,” says Yasin, whose face does not hide the truncated childhood of a child who has crossed Chad, Libya, Algeria, Morocco and tried with all his might to cross into Europe on 24 of June. “I didn’t say I was a minor since I don’t understand Spanish and they don’t understand me. No one has asked me”, he assures. They handcuffed him and turned back. “I’ve tried to cross the fence 21 times,” interrupts a voice from the crowd.

An abandoned school as a home

The sun goes down, away from the luxuries of a sunset on the seafront of La Corniche of Casablanca, and the dreams are piled up in an abandoned school where hundreds of people live. All together they sleep spread out in old classrooms without windows. The oldest, only a few have a mattress, others a cardboard and most only the consolation of cement. A place where poverty has its own smell, but where no one loses the perspective that it is something temporary. “It’s the only possession we have,” Suleiman says of the ground. “When we got here we cleaned it up well. Look – he points to us -, the classrooms are our bedrooms”.

Young sub-Saharan Africans pose in the window of a school that serves as a refuge for them in a suburb of Casablanca JAIRO VARGAS

I have been in this school for almost two years, the authorities allow us to live here. This is all we have”, they clarify. “There are three giant classrooms and we have two floors,” explains Tager as he guides us through his hiding place. There is no electricity or water. There is no bathroom, in the courtyard the remains of those who have been passing. The walls are full of graffiti and the European dream of hundreds of young people who live here, mostly from Sudan, South Sudan and Chad, could be written on the cardboard. at least this shelter with roof protects them from the rain and sun.

Their stories are similar. They have in common the causes that push them to emigrate and the desire to reach Europe. Here they are prohibited from working. Yasin interrupts him and proudly says that he came to work in a food store in Libya. He seems underage, when asked about his age, he answers defensively, “I’m not small.”

“In Libya we could at least work on something, but here we don’t have access to anything. Those who have relatives abroad who send them some money help all the rest of us”, says Salim. They survive together. They have created their own community to support each other.

“I have tried to cross the fence 21 times”

Here the only task they have is to try to cross the border again and again. Many of those who survived the jump over the Melilla fence on June 24 are here. Some even made it and have been returned. The witnesses of the last jump rush to share their testimony. “Many brothers have died,” he says as he remembers the deceased. According to official data, there are 23 people who have lost their lives, although NGOs raise the figure to 37.

The number of injured is much higher. Some were taken to hospital. “They took me with a dead person in the ambulance. They healed me and took me back to the meeting point to get on the bus and bring us back to the cities”, says a young man who has a bandage on his foot.

the authorities of the kingdom alawite they forced all the survivors of the jump to ride the buses to return to the big cities. The final destination of the voyager was the wastelands of small towns such as Chichauoa, El Kaala de Sraghna or Bini Alal. From there they moved on their own to the suburbs of cities like Casablanca, Rabat or Marrakech. “In the buses they brought us in handcuffs, it was many hours of travel and there were wounded comrades. Brothers even died,” says Salim.

no one in the woods

“We leave you the cities so that you don’t step on our mountains”, is what the Moroccan gendarmerie repeats to them over and over again. In fact, in the border city of nadorwhere the jump occurred, there is no trace of the sub-Saharan people who lived there. They were not in the streets, nor in the suburbs, it was enough with a walk in the famous mount Gururgú to verify that there was nobody. On June 24, after the tragic jump and only in a few hours, the Moroccan police had already taken care of leaving no trace.

Local Oneges assure that the authorities have been since last March with this policy that no one goes near the forests. But what the forests hide, the cities do not. there you live away from the racism and persecution they suffer due to their irregular status. “You can be calm, there is no one here,” Anwar tells us, who has a small food store and after a while shows the plainclothes police card that watches over the mountain. “If I see any movement I will call. You can walk because there is no one here, ”he adds, thinking that we are tourists.

Sub-Saharan people seem condemned to not be able to leave the circle of urban peripheries. And the further south the better, as if they were kept closer to the exit door. “The problem here is racism,” translates Omar when they insult him in the street. “We don’t talk to them and they don’t talk to us”, explains the social border that exists.

No one has their eyes on the Atlantic. The sea is not on their maps because it is too expensive and they cannot afford it. “If I don’t even have anything to eat, I can’t get on a boat,” says Salim uneasily. The only solution available to them seems simple at first glance: the mountains from which they see Ceuta and Melilla.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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