From the ground: A rapid response for migrants in Morocco
The Start Network's Migration Emergency Response Fund's (MERF) Emergency Coordinator, Melina Koutsis, and Start Fund MEAL Officer, Micheala Larson, have been in Morocco visiting Humanity & Inclusion's project funded by the MERF. In this blog post Melina gives her first hand account of their project on the ground.
A fire broke out in Casablanca’s Ouled Ziane migrant camp the night before the Migration Emergency Response Fund (MERF) project selection meeting. In response to the urgent needs, decision-makers awarded £480,000 on December 18, 2018 to Humanity & Inclusion’s (HI) project which aimed to alleviate tensions between migrants and surrounding Moroccan communities in downtown Casablanca, Morocco.
On any given day, between 800 and 1,400 migrants, primarily sub-Saharan African men, take shelter in an overcrowded basketball court next to the Ouled Ziane bus station. From there, migrants tempt their fate by bus that takes them in the direction of Melilla or Ceuta, Spain. They often camp out for days or weeks hiding in the Tangiers or Nador forest, waiting for the opportune time to take the boat or climb over the treacherous fence that separates Morocco and Spain. Not all are successful. Many in Ouled Ziane have been in the 400m2 camp for one or two years.
Over the past two years, the camp has become increasingly overpopulated and unsanitary. Though migrants sometimes try to use the toilets in the nearby bus station, the entrance is often barred, or they are stopped by the police. With little money or opportunity to leave the camp, hundred of migrants end up having to cook, wash, and relieve themselves in the ill-equipped basketball court. With little entertainment or access to the rest of the city, tensions naturally run quite high.
“Before the HI project, we didn’t trust anyone. Many NGOs or journalists would come into our camp for a day, take a few photos, and leave. We never saw them again. For a long time, we wouldn’t let any outsiders into our camp,” says one young Malian migrant.
It wasn’t an easy start to the HI project. One of the early activities was distributing winterisation kits, made up of warm clothes, sleeping bags, and shoes to migrants.
“Authorities wouldn’t let us distribute in the camp out of fear of creating any kind of disorder with migrants or the neighboring Moroccan communities, and migrants were too distrustful to leave the camp,” explains Lancinet Toupou, HI’s Migration Coordinator.
Finally, the HI team was able to find a compromise. They would distribute the kits in a nearby site belong to a partner away from the camp to a smaller group of migrant community leaders. Once the migrants saw the community leaders safely return to the camp with the kits, trust was slowly restored.
Over the course of the last few days, I was able to visit Ouled Ziane camp along with Michaela Larson, Start Funds MEAL Officer. We were there to celebrate the opening of new toilets outside the bus station and camp, built by HI in coordination with local authorities. This was an exciting day. It meant that migrants now had open access to toilets, instead of having to jump or sneak into the bus station. The camp had been cleaned up too, with equipment provided to the migrants by HI and its partners, the SAMU Social and the Entraide Nationale. Fire extinguishers had been installed and first aid training provided to mitigate for any future fires.
However, major needs remain, most that will require long-term initiatives. For example, though the migrants now have access to the toilets and to a couple of nearby shops to purchase food and other items, leaving the camp still puts them at risk of getting stopped by the police. And without hope of a fixed address, any interested migrant is unable to access job or skills training that could help them integrate into the Moroccan community. There is also a worrying increase of unaccompanied minors in the camp. With MERF funding coming to an end on March 20, it’s unclear if other actors will be able to continue the work HI and its partners have started. And with that, HI’s hard-fought integration into the camp could be lost.
Read more about the MERF.