A Warm Welcome to Rabat

By: Sage Spalter

Morocco sits in a unique position with immense geographical significance at the intersection of several important regions. The country is a part of the greater Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, holds formal and informal positions within the continent of Africa, and sits in proximity to southern Europe leading foreign relations to be a center point of discussions and public policy in Morocco. For this reason, Grace, Paloma, and I chose to travel here to learn more about the ever-present topic of migration. Each of us with a focus on a different aspect of the subject came to speak with experts and professionals in migration to gain a better understanding of the intricacies of government and multilateral policies and their perceived outcomes on the experiences of migrants in the country.

With only a week to explore and learn in Morocco, we hit the ground running upon our arrival in Rabat. Our first conversation was with a specialist in migration health policy at the International Organization of Migration (IOM), an organization that is a part of the United Nations System as the leading inter-governmental organization on migration. We learned about the barriers to healthcare that migrants face and the ameliorations IOM supports. We came to better understand the role UN agencies play in this work—one that works to research, mobilize, and coordinate between governmental and non-governmental entities. This first conversation gave us a helpful landscape of the issues we sought to research and was a great beginning to our week of interviews.

On Saturday, we sat down with a journalist based in Rabat who reports on an array of issues but has significant experience reporting on the topic of migration. He recounted his stories of traveling across the country to document the tribulations of being a migrant at the borderlands living in liminality. Not only did he give us first-hand insight into stories he has heard echoed across migrant communities, but he described how he navigates being a journalist covering salient topics of human rights. Our engaging conversation left the three of us inspired by the many roles that exist within the field of migration.

Outside of our fact-finding, we have found time to explore the wonderful scenes and sites of Rabat. On Friday night, our dinner was a spread of delicious food both traditional to Morocco and to the fast-breaking evening meal of Ramadan, Iftar. As we strolled the streets on Saturday morning, we noticed how tranquil the city is and joyously basked in the warm weather that we heard was uncommon this early in the year. We saw the Hassan Tower in all of its glory and circled the Chellah, a medieval fortified Muslim necropolis and ancient archeological site.

As I look toward the days ahead, I look forward to hearing more perspectives on migration particularly as it relates to the gendered aspects of migration. In the coming days, we will meet with an official from an independent government institution, a couple of professors, a consultant on migration, and leaders of non-governmental organizations. I imagine we will hear more about the strife of Moroccan migrants and continue to be reminded of the interstitial and oftentimes treacherous situations that migration causes people. We keep in mind the many experiences of people who migrate that we will not hear and that, with very limited time in-country, we will only scratch the surface of one of the most pressing issues of human rights and public policy in our world today.

Migration in Morocco Fact-Finding Trip: Final Days

By: Grace Spalding-Fecher

Sitting in the Rabat Salé airport at 3:30 am I blearily think back over our 6 packed days in Morocco. The days flew by filled with interviews, sightseeing, exploring new neighborhoods and eating incredible food. We all feel a sense of deep gratitude for the generosity and kindness that we were shown by everyone that we met during our time in the country.

I think back to Tuesday when we sat in the sociology department office at the faculté des lettres et des sciences humaines of Hassan II University listening to the sounds of traffic, construction, and students hanging out in the sunny courtyard outside. Youness Benmouro, a professor of sociology, explains the concept of liminality in migration studies, which describes the phase of ambiguity when migrants enter into a new country, in this case Morocco, and are faced with new norms and laws that strip of them of their defining characteristics. Their identity becomes defined solely by being a migrant, with an association with criminality if they entered illegally. His work is particularly pertinent to my topic of sub-Saharan migration into Morocco and the way that the migration question is present in Morocco’s relationship with other African countries as his research attempts to identify mobility along the Sahelo-Saharan routes and migratory immobility during the stage of waiting in Morocco for migrants in irregular situations.

This conversation is particularly interesting after our discussion with ASTICUDE, an organization based in Nador that works to achieve inclusive, egalitarian and equitable access to political, economic and cultural decision-making, by contributing to producing a local elite capable of raising the challenges of development . Given the location of Nador 10km away from Melilla, one of the two Spanish enclaves in Morocco, many migrants who hope to reach Europe take shelter in the forest between the city and the border before attempting to cross. The organization works with migrants who are in this waiting phase before they attempt to cross the border into Melilla or after an unsuccessful attempt when they have to decide what to do next.

After a total of 10 interviews we are leaving with a wealth of new knowledge and connections. From experts on land and women rights to climate migration and census planning they exposed us to topics that we have studied in the classroom as well as ones that were completely new to us. We are so grateful for the continued support of the IGL and Tisch College, as well as all of our contacts for their support in making this trip a reality!

A Day of Careem Rides, Migration Conversations, and Mint Tea

By: Paloma Delgado

Today was another lovely but busy day as we explored the city of Rabat before making our way to Casablanca in the evening. We started our morning off by heading over to a part of the city we had yet to visit, Souissi. The Soussi neighborhood exemplified the tranquil, administrative image of Rabat, a gated community filled with government buildings, embassies and educational institutions. We made our way over early in the morning in a Careem ride – the equivalent of Uber – for our meeting at the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Upon our arrival, we were immediately struck by a line of individuals standing outside the gate of the building — women holding small children, groups of young men sitting on the side of the curb, families chatting amongst themselves. As we entered the gates of the organization, an official escorting us informed us that the people standing outside the gates were migrants seeking access to IOM’s voluntary return and reintegration services. In other words, humanitarian, administrative, logistical, and financial support for migrants who decide to return to their countries of origin. We were led to an outdoor courtyard where we met with a national project officer for the IOM. They explained to us their own role at the organization, the services offered to regular and irregular migrants seeking assistance in Morocco, and the initiatives IOM is spearheading in other cities in Morocco, such as Tangier and Casablanca. As a migration specialist, they explained their fieldwork in Oujda, a city in the northeast of Morocco near the Algerian border, where they worked on the ground to provide aid to migrants crossing the border from Algeria into Morocco. They now work more in the policy and data side of migration in Rabat, supporting efforts to include migration identifiers on the Census for 2024.

Later in the afternoon, we made our way back to the Quartier de L’Ocean to meet with two officials from Association Lumière sur l’Émigration Clandestine au Maghreb (Light on Irregular Migration in the Maghreb Association, or ALECMA). We found ourselves wandering multiple streets and alleys before coming across someone waving us down on a street corner. We made our way through multiple doors and staircases before arriving at multiple offices situated on a roof-like terrace. Both officials from ALECMA explained the focus of the grassroots organization, which advocates for the needs of sub-Saharan African migrants in Morocco. It was fascinating to hear about their work, specifically in relation to combating the racism that sub-Saharan Africans face along their journey to Morocco as well as upon their arrival and integration in Moroccan society. As immigrants from other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, both officials were highly attuned to the obstacles that migrants arriving from this region confront as well as transparent about the shortcomings of international organizations in Rabat that purport to provide their services in an equal and effective manner.

Our last meeting of the day was in the Hassan neighborhood with a migration consultant we had contacted several months earlier. We were welcomed into their home and enjoyed mint tea and cookies in their backyard, alongside their fluffy black cat who basked in the sun. They explained their work advising different organizations and international agencies on migration and gender phenomena, and delved into their more recent work at the crossroads of climate-change and migration. As a national of France, it was interesting to hear about their time working within their home country before becoming specialized in the Maghreb region.

We immediately made our way back to the hotel to grab our bags before heading to the train station. It only took us a little over an hour before we arrived at the city center of Casablanca. Quickly dropping off our bags at the Airbnb, we walked to the Old Medina for a late dinner at La Sqala – enjoying some much needed tajine after a day full of activity.