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Morocco: Violence against Migrants

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Apr 26, 2013 (130426)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"The renewed cooperation efforts between Morocco and Spain which, according to these countries, are focused on the fight against cross-border crime, illegal migration and drug trafficking. are having a serious impact on the physical and mental health of sub-Saharan migrants. Migration policies privilege internal security criteria over respect for fundamental human rights." - David Cantero, Head of Mission in Morocco for Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

In today's world, the simple distinction between "destination countries" and "origin countries" for migration is much too simple. The presence of Moroccan immigrants in Europe, for example, is long-standing and multigenerational, making up part of what researcher Hein de Haas describes as an established a "migration system." But Morocco is also a destination country for immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa as well as, for some, a transit country on the way to Europe.

Whatever their actual or intended destination, "irregular migrants" in Morocco, as in other countries around the world, face precarious conditions, with high vulnerability to abuses both from criminal networks and from authorities. This report by Doctors Without Borders documents the situation in Morocco's
east, from which many try to enter from Algeria or attempt the border crossings from Morocco to the Spanish enclave of Melilla.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a press release and excerpts from the report released last month by MSF, "Violence, Vulnerability and Migration: Trapped at the Gates of Europe."

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on migration issues, see

For an earlier AfricaFocus Bulletin with background on sub-Saharan migrants in Morocco, see

For several in-depth monographs on migration in North Africa, including migration from sub-Saharan Africa, see

For an overview of "African Migration, Global Inequalities, and Human Rights," see


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++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Morocco: Violence, vulnerability and migration


Doctors Without Borders

Direct URL:

A new report by Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) outlines the impact of precarious living conditions and widespread criminal and institutional violence on the health of undocumented sub-Saharan migrants trapped in Morocco on their way to Europe.

According to the report, Morocco's transformation, as a result of increasingly stringent border controls, from a country of transit to a forced destination for migrants heightens their vulnerability.

Undermining human rights

The implementation of migration policies which undermine respect for human rights is impacting on the health of this population, which includes vulnerable groups, such as victims of sexual violence or human trafficking, who are not receiving specialised care and protection from the authorities.

"The renewed cooperation efforts between Morocco and Spain which, according to these countries, are focused on the fight against cross-border crime, illegal migration and drug trafficking. are having a serious impact on the physical and mental health of sub-Saharan migrants", explains David Cantero, MSF Head of Mission in Morocco.

"Migration policies privilege internal security criteria over respect for fundamental human rights".

MSF report

The report, Trapped at the Gates of Europe, denounces the violence which migrants are subjected to on a daily basis.

Since December 2011, MSF teams have witnessed an increase in the number of police raids, during which migrants' belongings are destroyed, and an increase in the expulsion to Algeria of those who arrested, including vulnerable groups such as pregnant women, injured people and minors.

These indiscriminate raids and expulsions are part of the renewed violence used by Moroccan and Spanish security forces to dissuade migrants attempting to jump the fences surrounding the Spanish territory of Melilla. In 2012 alone, the MSF teams in Oriental Region, which includes Nador, neighbouring Melilla, treated over 1,100 injured people.

"Since April last year, in particular, we have seen broken arms, legs, hands, and jaws as well as broken teeth and concussions, amongst others. These injuries are consistent with migrants' accounts of having been attacked by the security forces", explains Cantero.

Sexual violence

One of the most urgent and significant problems outlined in the report is the sexual violence experienced, for the most part, by migrant women and girls.

It is impossible to determine the exact proportions of this violence, however MSF's medical data reveals an alarming situation. From 2010 to 2012, MSF teams treated almost 700 survivors.


Access to healthcare

Trapped at the Gates of Europe recognises the improvements in migrants' access to healthcare services in Morocco, which have been achieved by civil society organisations and non-governmental organisations working with the Ministry of Health. This has led to a gradual decrease in MSF's direct medical activities over the past few years.

However, the question mark over the application of a new health insurance regime, the lack of mental health services and comprehensive care for survivors of sexual violence (for both migrants and Moroccans) and the existence of areas where, for fear of being expelled, migrants do not voluntarily go to health centres, are pitfalls that the Moroccan government needs to overcome.

The progress made to date, however, will be limited if migration policies continue to criminalise and marginalise sub-Saharan migrants and prioritise the focus on internal security over respect for human rights.

MSF hand over activities

The protection of migrants and the defence of their fundamental rights fall outside the scope of MSF's work as a medical and humanitarian organisation and this is one of the reasons why MSF has decided to hand over its activities in Morocco this year.

MSF urges the Moroccan and Spanish governments to stop the abuses perpetrated by their security forces, comply with international and national human rights agreements and guarantee that sub-Saharan migrants are treated humanely, regardless of their legal status.

MSF in Morocco

MSF has worked in Morocco since 1997. Since 2003 the organisation has focused its operations on guaranteeing access to healthcare for migrants. MSF handed over its activities in Rabat in 2012 and is currently handing over its remaining operations in Oujda and Nador.

Violence, Vulnerability and Migration: Trapped at the Gates of Europe

A report on the situation of sub-Saharan migrants in an irregular situation in Morocco

Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders

March 2003

Executive Summary

Over the last ten years, as the European Union (EU) has tightened its border controls and increasingly externalised its migration policies, Morocco has changed from being just a transit country for migrants en route to Europe to being both a transit and destination country by default. MSF's experience demonstrates that the longer sub-Saharan migrants stay in Morocco the more vulnerable they become. This preexisting vulnerability, related to factors such as age and gender, as well as traumas experienced during the migration process, accumulates as they are trapped in Morocco and subjected to policies and practices that neglect, exclude and discriminate against them.

MSF's data demonstrates that the precarious living conditions that the majority of sub-Saharan migrants in Morocco are forced to live in and the wide-spread institutional and criminal violence that they are exposed to continue to be the main factors influencing medical and psychological needs.

MSF teams have repeatedly highlighted and denounced this situation, yet violence remains a daily reality for the majority of sub-Saharan migrants in Morocco. In fact, as this report demonstrates, the period since December 2011 has seen a sharp increase in abuse, degrading treatment and violence against sub-Saharan migrants by Moroccan and Spanish security forces. This report also reveals the widespread violence carried out by criminal gangs, including bandits and human smuggling and human trafficking networks. It provides a glimpse into the shocking levels of sexual violence that migrants are exposed to throughout the migration process and demands better assistance and protection for those affected.

These unacceptable levels of violence should not overshadow the achievements that have been made in recognition and respect for sub-Saharan migrants' right to health over the last ten years. Progress has been made, however considerable challenges remain, particularly with regard to non-emergency, secondary care, care for people with mental health problems and protection and assistance for survivors of sexual violence. Further investment and reform of the healthcare system is needed, however the impact of the progress made to date and any future reforms will be limited unless concrete action is taken to address the discrepancy between European and Moroccan policies which view migration through a security prism and criminalise, marginalise and discriminate against sub-Saharan migrants in Morocco and those which protect and uphold their fundamental human rights.

This report highlights the medical and psychological consequences of this approach and the cumulative vulnerability of the significant numbers of sub-Saharan migrants who are trapped in Morocco. In doing so it calls, once again, on the Moroccan authorities to respect their international and national commitments to human rights, develop and implement protection mechanisms and ensure that sub-Saharan migrants are treated in a humane and dignified manner, no matter what their legal status.

. . .

The sub-Saharan Migrant Population in Oriental Region

As a country of origin for Moroccans emigrating to Europe or elsewhere, a transit country for migrants en route to Europe and a destination country for people seeking asylum or economic opportunities, Morocco has a long and complicated relationship with migration. According to MSF's data, the sub-Saharan migrant population in Morocco is predominantly West African and includes people who have been forced to flee their countries in search of asylum and protection, people who have been pushed to leave their countries by factors such as climate change or a lack of livelihood and economic opportunities and people who have been recruited or exploited by human trafficking networks.

Although migration routes continually change, the majority of sub- Saharan migrants enter Morocco by crossing from Maghnia, on the Algerian side of the border, to Oujda, on the Moroccan side. According to MSF's data3 the overall numbers of sub-Saharan migrants in Oujda have decreased since 2010, however since the end of June 2012 an increase is evident. ...

In Oujda, the sub-Saharan migrant population lives in groups according to their nationalities, which are organised and controlled by individuals involved in the smuggling and trafficking of human beings. MSF's data from 2010 to 2012 reveals that the population in Oujda is 82% adult male and 13% adult female. Of the female population approximately 14% are pregnant. 2% of the population is made up of unaccompanied minors, aged between 13 and 18 years old who have migrated without a parent or legal guardian. 3% are children aged under 13.

After arriving in Oujda the majority of sub-Saharan migrants travel to other parts of Morocco as soon as they can. Many travel to the coastal town of Nador, which borders the Spanish city of Melilla, where they live in groups which are organised according to their means of getting to Europe. The population living in Gurugu forest is almost exclusively male and includes significant numbers of unaccompanied minors who do not have the money to pay a smuggling network and try to enter Europe by other means, such as jumping the fences or swimming to Melilla. In other areas of Nador the communities are organised by individuals involved in human smuggling and human trafficking and consist of mixed nationality groups of men, women, boys and girls who are waiting for a boat4 or other means of transport to take them to Europe.


In the last ten years, as the European Union has tightened its border controls and increasingly externalised its migration management policies, significant numbers of sub-Saharan migrants are becoming "trapped" in Morocco, unable to continue their journeys to Europe and equally unable to return to their countries of origin. The MSF survey of approximately 20% of the population in Oriental region (190 sub-Saharan migrants) that was carried out in 2012 reveals that more than half of those interviewed had been in Morocco for more than six months.



Physical and psychological trauma are constant factors of the migration process, with many migrants experiencing conflict, violence, rape or other forms of sexual violence in their countries of origin or during their journeys. MSF's experience shows that the longer subSaharan migrants are trapped in Morocco, where they are continually subjected to policies and practices that criminalise, exclude and discriminate against them, the more exposed and vulnerable they are to violence, abuse and exploitation.

Over the last ten years MSF teams have issued a series of reports and public communications to highlight and denounce this violence that impacts migrants' physical and mental health. Yet, violence remains a daily reality for the majority of sub-Saharan migrants in Morocco. In fact in the last year MSF teams have witnessed a sharp increase in violence by Moroccan and Spanish security forces. The perpetrators of violence are able to act with impunity knowing that vast majority of sub-Saharan migrants who are beaten, abused, raped and attacked will not seek medical help, protection or justice due to fear of arrest or other repercussions.

The results of the MSF survey give a glimpse into the levels and scale of the violence experienced by most subSaharan migrants in Morocco. 63% of people interviewed said they had experienced violence in Morocco. According to the responses given, the Moroccan Security Forces were the most common perpetrators of violence (64% of responses), followed by Moroccan bandits (21% of responses) and the Spanish Guardia Civil (7% of responses). Many incidents of violence (12% of responses) involved more than two perpetrators.

Three-quarters of those who had experienced violence in Morocco had experienced multiple episodes of violence. ...

From 2010 to 2012, 18% (2,124) of MSF's medical consultations were related to physical and sexual violence. Over three quarters of patients who received psychological assistance identified violence as the most relevant precipitating event for their mental health condition. In the last year alone, MSF teams in Nador and Oujda have assisted more than 1,100 people with violence related injuries. ...

Over the past three years MSF has provided essential medical and psychological care to almost 700 male and female survivors of sexual violence, who had been attacked in their country of origin, en route and in Morocco. Amongst these were more than 240 victims of human trafficking, the vast majority of whom had suffered multiple episodes of rape and other forms of physical, psychological and sexual violence.

The hundreds of victims of physical and sexual violence that MSF has assisted in the last three years are the ones that have sought and received care and, as such, represent only a small proportion of those affected.

Violence by the Security Forces

Raids and Expulsions

Since December 2011 efforts by the Moroccan government, supported by its European partners particularly the Spanish government, to combat "cross-border crime, illegal immigration and the trafficking of drugs and weapons" have resulted in a dramatic rise in widescale, indiscriminate raids on sub-Saharan migrant communities in Morocco. Daily raids have been carried out on subSaharan migrant communities in Oriental Region, with large-scale raids on specific suburbs of cities nationwide, including Rabat-Salé, Casablanca, Fes and Tangiers, also regularly taking place. The sub-Saharan migrants who are arrested during these raids, including pregnant women, minors, refugees and asylum seekers, are taken at night, en masse to the border of Morocco (Oujda) and Algeria (Maghnia) and expelled into the no-man's land separating the two countries.


During expulsions sub-Saharan migrants are dropped at the Moroccan side of the border by Moroccan security forces and then forced to cross to the Algerian side. Interviews with MSF's patients reveal that whilst doing so many are attacked by the Algerian security forces, who threaten and mistreat them and, at times, fire into the air to try and get them to turn back and re-enter Morocco. Thus migrants are caught in a sinister game of ping pong between two sets of security forces. According to testimonies taken by MSF staff, violence and abuse by the Algerian security forces is commonplace.

"They took us to the border and threw us onto the Algerian side at 11pm. The Algerian police / gendarmerie came out with their guns....they took us and put us in their base. I wanted to run and I tried to escape but one of them cried "don't run!" and he fired. I hid and the bullet missed me. They beat me a lot, with their boots, with their guns......They took our clothes and burnt everything. They took our money. They let us go at 4am. We only had our bermudas (underwear) on. Luckily we passed a Moroccan who was on his way to the mosque. He asked us what had happened and gave us some clothes to wear." Denis, 16 years old

The procedures for the removal of foreigners who are in Morocco without the correct documentation are outlined in Law 02-03. Articles 21 to 25 stipulate that foreigners can be returned to the border or expelled if they are deemed to constitute a "severe threat to public order." ... [but] The removal of pregnant foreign women and foreign minors is forbidden. In addition no foreigner can be taken to a country in which it is established that "his [or her] life or liberty would be threatened or where he [or she] would be exposed to inhumane, cruel or degrading treatment." According to MSF's interpretation the expulsion of people with serious wounds or illnesses to the desert area separating Morocco and Algeria constitutes a threat to their life, therefore sick and injured people should not be expelled.

Despite these provisions, MSF teams in Oriental Region recorded a worrying increase in the expulsion of these vulnerable groups throughout 2012. In 2011 MSF teams recorded 63 incidents of expulsion. More than 1,300 people were expelled including 38 women, six of whom were pregnant, six unaccompanied minors and 24 children. In 2012, 191 incidents were recorded and more than 6,000 people were expelled. According to MSF's data at least 93 women, 18 of whom were pregnant, 45 minors, 35 children and more than 500 people requiring medical care for violence related injuries were expelled throughout the year. ...

With few other options available to them, the majority of sub-Saharan migrants who are arrested and expelled return to Oujda as soon as possible. According to the MSF survey, 68% of people interviewed said they had been arrested and expelled since they arrived in Morocco. ...

Violence at the Moroccan and Spanish Border

In the summer of 2012, for the first time since 2005, large groups of migrants attempted to cross the fences separating Nador and the Spanish territory of Melilla at the same time. Whilst the Moroccan and Spanish media have reported on the "Peril Noir (Black Danger)" and the "thousands of sub-Saharans stalking Spain" little has been said about the extreme violence with which the Moroccan Security Forces and, to a lesser extent, the Spanish Guardia Civil have responded to these attempts. The abuse of sub-Saharan migrants' fundamental human rights, violence, degrading treatment and significant medical and psychological harm are direct consequences of the "new era" in Spanish Moroccan relations and the "excellent" cooperation on security issues publicly highlighted by representatives of the Spanish and Moroccan governments throughout 2012.

MSF mobile clinic teams in Nador assisted more than 600 people with violence related injuries in 2012. Between April and October 2012 the percentage of people MSF assisted for violence related injuries almost doubled, from 22 to 42% of all people assisted. ...

"Many of the wounds that MSF teams have seen, such as broken arms, legs, hands, jaws and teeth, concussions, head and spinal injuries and two men who have been blinded in one eye, are consistent with traumas caused by wood, rocks, stones or other implements." MSF Medical Coordinator

Testimonies taken from MSF's patients state that security forces and members of the civilian population throw stones at them when they are trying to jump the fences. Those who are caught are beaten with batons, wood and other instruments and subjected to degrading treatment.


During the summer of 2012, MSF teams received numerous testimonies from sub-Saharan migrants saying that after being beaten they were taken and dumped in isolated areas, far from assistance. In July MSF's mobile clinic team found five seriously injured people in a ravine between the road and the river in Ekodadan, Nador. After MSF called the ambulance service these patients were transferred to hospital.


The violence, abuse and degrading treatment carried out by the Moroccan security forces directly contravenes the Moroccan Constitution, which establishes the primacy of international law over national law and protects fundamental rights and liberties, including the right to life, security, freedom of thought, opinion and expression and forbids all serious and systematic human rights violations, cruel and degrading treatment, torture, arbitrary detention, forced disappearances and any incitation to racism, hate or violence. They also violate the fundamental human rights and protections enshrined in the international conventions that Morocco has ratified, ...

According to MSF's experience it is not only the Moroccan security forces who are responsible for violence against sub-Saharan migrants as they try to cross into Europe. In late 2012 MSF teams treated patients who stated that the Guardia Civil used rubber bullets to apprehend them and beat them.

Testimonies taken by MSF staff indicate that many of the migrants who succeed in crossing the fences, including some of whom are visibly injured, are caught by the Spanish Guardia Civil and handed back to the Moroccan security forces.

In September 2012, 43 injured migrants arrived at MSF's office in Oujda after having been expelled to the border with Algeria by the Moroccan police. They told MSF staff that they were part of a large group who had succeeded in entering Melilla in the early hours of 3 September but they were caught by the Guardia Civil, who used rubber bullets and electric batons to apprehend them, and then handed over to Moroccan security forces, who beat them. More than half of the 43 needed immediate medical care, including eight who were referred to hospital. ...



Eight years after issuing its first report denouncing the treatment of sub-Saharan migrants in Morocco, MSF is once again highlighting the medical and psychological needs resulting from the precarious living conditions and widespread institutional and criminal violence that subSaharan migrants are subjected to whilst they are in Morocco.


As a medical humanitarian organisation, it is not MSF's role to dictate migration policy in Africa and Europe. However, it is MSF's duty to highlight the violence, abuse and suffering experienced by Eight years after issuing its first report denouncing the treatment of subSaharan migrants in Morocco, MSF is once again highlighting the medical and psychological needs resulting from the precarious living conditions and widespread institutional and criminal violence that subSaharan migrants are subjected to whilst they are in Morocco.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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