3. Police raids

An article written for an internet blog days after arriving in Tangier:

Having your door kicked open and police officers come storming into your home early in the morning is not an uncommon thing for a migrant household in Tangier. In fact this can happen at least once every week, so much so that the residents of the house will just leave the doors open most often just so they don’t have to keep repairing them.

The reason for this is to catch out any migrant that may be in Morocco without papers. If such person were to be found then they would be detained for up to 2 days before being taken to the nearest border, which for Tangier is Oujda, the border town close to Algeria.

I’ve been staying in a migrant household on the edge of Tangier. I was mainly there to visit friends that I had made from the previous time that I was in Morocco, but this time I was also here to talk with people about their living conditions, work availability, child care and schooling, but most of all, the abuse and lack of help that they get from locals and especially from local police and other officials. When early one morning I got a little insight into how they are treated.

I was abruptly woken up by a large crashing sound and opened my eyes to find a police officer stood over me staring in bewilderment. He signalled for me to get up and to step outside. As I started to, a couple of the guys that are living there said to me that I can just stay here because “They have no problem with white man”, I said that I wanted to go through with the process to find out how it worked, but only as long as it would not cause any further problems.

So I walked out of the front door and was greeted with several officers surrounding the doorway “Passport” or “Papiers” they were shouting to each individual that was stepping out. I handed my passport and kept a close eye on it. An officer caught my attention by asking “Why are you here? Why are you with these blacks?”,

Checking documents
Checking documents

“These blacks” I started “Are people like you and me and they are my friends, mon amis”. Swiftly I was grabbed at my shoulder by one of the Senegalese guys that mimed to me that it was Ok, indicating that I should probably talk to the police as little as possible.

I walked over to the three officers that were checking each passport, where I noticed the extent of police that were around. There were several police vehicles parked around, a long row of police stood in an alleyway looking ominously like a firing squad and many other officials wandering around, some not even in uniform. In turn, every resident were being checked and asked a series of basic questions as to their intent and purpose. They went through my passport with clearly, very little concern as to my legalities.

Looking like a firing squad
Looking like a firing squad

As I was being handed my passport back, one of them asked in French “You are English?”, “Yes” I replied thinking about the fact that they had just been scrutinising my passport. “You are here on holiday?”

“Yes, something like that”. He continued in English now “You like it here in Morocco?” I wasn’t quite sure if he was joking or not, seen as he knew I had just witnessed the raiding of the house I was staying in. “Yeah sure” I said hesitantly, “You are very welcome” he finished with a broad smile. I just don’t understand their mentality towards the situation sometimes!

Speaking to some of the residents after the police left, I was shocked to find out how often they come and what usually happens. Fortunately, this time no one was taken away, but everyone had their own stories of past incidents where they had been taken away, even though they had papers to prove their legality. Then been detained for several hours without being questioned, fed or given water, before being released again. Or other instances, where people would be deported over the Algerian border, usually dropped off in the middle of nowhere, perhaps 15 to 20km from the nearest place without any water. Twenty to thirty migrants would then have to walk back and smuggle themselves back over the Moroccan border, before being able to get back to Tangier. This is massively understated compared to the actual realities here in.

The migrants also told me that this time, the raid had been very calm, the police were a lot more controlled than in previous times, whether this is because of my presence, I’m not sure, but I would guess so. Apparently in the past, people have been physically abused while being taken out of the house, beaten and thrown to the ground. Possessions have gone missing on a regular basis, such as mobile phones, laptops and other electrical devices. On one occasion I was told that an officer had been spotted taking a phone and upon being questioned about it, was just threatened then dismissed.

While all this goes on, the local Moroccan community are mostly in support of the police and can be heard giving comments of racial abuse, or just simply nodding and smiling in agreement of what they are seeing. Which frankly, I find sickening. Not only do the Senegalese and Gambian collective here have to avoid police discrimination on a daily basis but also try to avoid the local Arabic community too.


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An autobiographical novel documenting the struggles of Sub-saharan African migrants in the EU border town of Tangiers, Morocco. Content note for rape, trafficking, police violence, murder and racial abuse.

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