Society and lifestyle
27 October 2021, Jannie Schipper, RNW
“Be careful, these black people could eat you”, a Moroccan juice seller warns us, in the border town of Fnideq.
African migrants in Morocco feel harassed by locals, and Moroccans in turn are sometimes afraid of the new arrivals. Between the two groups, the misunderstanding is deep. This is the conclusion drawn by Jannie Schipper, journalist at Radio Nederland, during a visit to the wooded area near the border with Spain.
They could eat you
On the side of the road from Fnideq to Ksar Sghir, in northern Morocco, six young men are seated, their hands stretched out in a pleading gesture.
“Be careful, these black people could eat you”, a Moroccan juice seller warns us, in the border town of Fnideq. What could they do? “Yes, really,” he replies. “They are capable of anything”. Taxi drivers waiting for customers in the dusty square show little enthusiasm when it comes to visiting these Africans who are camping in the forest. “Don't go there, it's dangerous.”
“Arabs hate black people. And this does not date from today, it is in their blood,” says Aboubakr, a young national of Senegal who hopes to eventually rally Europe. He spent almost a year in Rabat, the capital of Morocco, before arriving at this camp near the Spanish border and his experiences there made him feel bitter.
“Some of my friends have been stabbed. The bandits target us because they know that we cannot go to the police, even if we are robbed and injured. Being undocumented, we will rather be arrested. Black people have no rights here.”
Racist attitudes also manifest themselves in other ways. Souleymane, from Guinea-Conakry, is angry that Moroccans call him “African” in a derogatory sense. “They must consider us as African brothers,” he says, “it's different when a European calls you African, or when another African does.” Aboubakr also feels insulting the fact that Moroccans “cannot believe that most of us are also Muslims.” People are surprised when they see him kneeling for prayer. “They don't think a black man can be a Muslim.”
Bread and fruit
For more than an hour, at least five cars stop along the road. A boy runs to the car, talks briefly with the person inside, and returns with a plastic bag. Bread, pieces of fruit, sometimes a little money. “My mother buys bread to bring it to them,” says a young woman from neighboring Ksar Sghir. For her, it is a natural humanitarian gesture. “They live there with nothing, we have to help them.” A poultry seller in Fnideq keeps chicken legs for Africans living in the forest because they love them and Moroccans do not eat them. He feels sorry for them, “they just want to go to Europe, they have nothing here.”
Life in the forest
Young Africans make their way through the trees and cross narrow streams to reach what they call “the ghetto”: a small camp in the forest, about half an hour walk from the road. Aboubakr lives there with around twenty other people, mainly Senegalese and Guineans. “The ghetto” consists of an improvised tent and a small wood fire with a few pots and plates.
A few hundred meters below the mountain, there are similar camps with people of other nationalities. Some have been there for months, waiting for a chance to reach Ceuta, the Spanish enclave in Morocco. Almost all of those living in the forest have tried to cross the border more than once.
As Europe has been watching its borders more and more closely in recent years, many migrants from sub-Saharan Africa are now trapped in Morocco. Some work as domestic workers or as day laborers, very few find regular employment. Authorities treat migrants with a mixture of neglect and occasional repression in the form of raids and extraditions. Local reactions are also mixed.
“A few years ago, people had to get used to their presence, but now relations are looking good,” said a shopkeeper in a mountain village near the forest. A tall black man enters the store and buys rice, yogurt and other food items. “The authorities advised me not to sell them,” says the shopkeeper, “but I sell to anyone, we are all the same.”
It's not in their culture
Contact between the two groups is most often limited to a simple hello and goodbye. Neither the shopkeeper nor the poultry seller, even the young woman with whom we spoke, said that he had African friends. And the migrants in the forest seem to have as much a limited vision of Moroccan culture as Moroccans have of their own. “We just work for them,” says one of the Africans. “Some treat you well, others treat you badly. But they all pay very little.”
Lots of Blacks in the soccer team
Migrants are reluctant to believe that they could encounter more racism in Europe than in Morocco. If they finally manage to cross the border, “Blacks and Whites are good together,” says Aboubakr. “In Holland there are a lot of black people in the national football team. Moroccans are just jealous.”
“I have stopped worrying about whether they are racist or not,” said Jules, a Cameroonian, “since they have work for me. And Moroccans don't have one, so I have to go to Europe.”
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