Morocco: Sub-Saharan migrants caught in a new wave of arrests

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Families arrested in the middle of the night at their homes, thrown into buses and left to their fate in cities in the middle of the desert: several migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and living in Morocco have contacted our editorial staff since June 17, worried about a particularly ferocious wave of arrests in Laâyoune, a city known to be a point of departure for candidates for immigration to the Canary Islands, in Spain.

Koffi (pseudonym) is Ivorian, he lives in the “25 mars” district, in Laâyoune, Morocco, where many migrants live waiting to be able to reach the Canary Islands, in Spain, via the Atlantic Ocean. He denounces violent arrests:

The police arrive in the middle of the night, sometimes around 5 a.m., when everyone is asleep. They knock two or three times, and if no one answers, they break down the door and let everyone out, including the women and children. To escape the police, some are ready to take all the risks: a friend broke his arm jumping out of the window.

These migrants come from Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Mali and Togo. In a video, shot in a hospital room in the city, one of them, his arm in plaster, recounts how he injured himself jumping from the third floor to escape the police in early June.

In this video, a migrant recounts how he broke his arm jumping off the balcony in his attempt to escape.

It was 6 a.m. We were sleeping and suddenly we heard noises outside. We stuck our heads out and saw it was the police. She chased us. We wanted to go down by the balcony. We were several people. Some went down without a problem. But we, well….

At the time, we didn’t feel any pain, but thirty minutes later, we had trouble walking. We didn’t know what to do, so we came to the hospital here.

I have been in the hospital for ten days. I normally have to have surgeries.

According to Hassan Amari, an activist with the Moroccan Human Rights Association (AMDH) who is monitoring the situation, these arrests of migrants are not carried out according to the rules, “because the police burst into homes without having a decision of righteousness”.

After their arrest, several migrants say they were locked up for several days in a detention center which they describe as unsanitary, on the outskirts of Laâyoune. Some were subsequently put on buses and taken to other regions, often in the middle of the desert, near the border with Algeria.

This video was filmed by Aminata (pseudonym). It shows migrants walking in the street, in the city of Tata, on the night of Saturday to Sunday June 19.

On Sunday June 20, Aminata was able to return to Laâyoune with several other migrants:

We took a taxi from Tata to Agadir, at 120 dirhams (about 11 euros) per person.

From there, we took a bus to Tan-Tan, [à 330 kilomètres au sud d’Agadir, non loin de la côte atlantique, NDLR]at 150 dirhams (about 14 euros).

We got off the bus before entering the town of Tan-Tan to avoid a police checkpoint. So we walked 5 kilometers to enter this town.

From there, we took an ‘auto-mafia’ to return to Laâyoune, which we paid 350 dirhams (about 33 euros).

Several migrants we contacted mentioned the existence of these “auto-mafias”: these are smugglers who transport candidates for immigration to crossing points, such as Laâyoune and Dakhla, in Western Sahara.

“To avoid arrests, we go to hide in construction sites”

Koffi (pseudonym) took this type of vehicle several times to go from Agadir to Laâyoune:

The ‘auto-mafias’ transport the migrants in 4X4s from which they tear off the seats to have the maximum number of places. They sometimes pile them up to 14 people in the back of the vehicle. These trips are expensive. Depending on the distance, the price can reach more than 100 euros. The drivers are Moroccans and Saharawis. They drive on tracks through the desert because if they take the road they are spotted and arrested by the police and the gendarmes.

Koffi says Moroccan authorities have tightened controls considerably since resuming cooperation with theSpain on migration, may’s beginning. This cooperation was interrupted for two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic and a diplomatic crisis between the two countries.

For the past two weeks, the police have been carrying out operations almost every night in migrant neighborhoods. So, to avoid arrests, we leave our homes at 5 p.m. every day and go to hide in construction sites outside the city. We return home at 10 am to sleep, to take a little rest. Then, at 5 p.m., we start again… It’s exhausting.

Moreover, now when the police arrest migrants, they take away their mobile phones so that they cannot film. That way there is no evidence if they are abused or beaten. This explains why there are few videos of the arrests circulating on social media.

Video transmitted to the editorial staff of the Observers of France 24, which shows two migrants fleeing when two police vehicles trying to stop them.

The Moroccan authorities have not communicated the number of people arrested since the start of this wave. Hassan Amari, of the AMDH, estimates that more than 1,000 migrants have been arrested since the beginning of June.

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