I’d travelled to Morocco the year before but purely for self-interested reasons – exploring, immersing myself into the culture – that kind of thing – but never really digging any deeper. Close to the end of that first trip, I sought out some European friends in Morocco – a band of merry musicians living out in Tangier, looking to connect with the migrant community. There, I was introduced to close friends of theirs, all French speaking Senegalese with the exception of an English speaking Gambian – people migrating to Europe in hope of a better life.
As well as music and hash we also shared stories, mine being humble comedies of the road, theirs being quite the opposite. I learned about the perilous journeys undertaken by people from various countries south of the Sahara: people having to pass endless police road blocks, minefields, deserts and – of course – borders. They gave me many examples of racial discrimination and the low quality of life that people had to endure while they resided in Morocco such as lack of health care; lack of work; police brutality; and constant abuse from locals.
I also learned the means of getting across to Europe, the last hurdle before ‘freedom’. Small overcrowded inflatable boats are taken out to sea, where they’re paddled across to the next continent by migrants trying to avoid Spanish Guardia Civil boats and death by drowning. The gap is only fourteen kilometres at the shortest point, but crossing the Gibraltar strait has claimed many lives and is widely feared by the migrant community.
Deportation is also a regular occurrence, especially in Tangier and Nador. Police regularly grab migrants in the street or raid their houses to check their papers. People I met usually had a passport, but had overstayed their visa. Others had nothing at all and were completely clandestine.
It’s known that the European Union pay out 1500 Euros to the Moroccan government for every migrant that they catch without correct papers. This large sum of money is intended to be used for that person’s transport, food, accommodation and healthcare while being deported to their country of origin.
But in reality the police often just beat them before either releasing them back on to the street; taking them to a different Moroccan city; or out into the desolate desert of the neighbouring country, Algeria. During this illegal form of deportation many women have been raped and many people have died, all by the hands of the Moroccan authorities.
These were cold facts I was told about after spending almost three months in Morocco. I felt like I’d been completely sheltered from what was really happening in this country. I’d heard of stories like this happening, but now I knew it was right here, on all the borders around Europe. The extent of brutality and inhumanity towards people was shocking. Every single person I met there were covered in vicious scars and told endless stories of police beatings and torture, all of it happening on a daily basis.
But little did I know, we were barely scratching the surface of what was really happening. Those guys I met back then left me with a lasting impression, so six months later I decided to return.