Refugees in Morocco
Every day tens of thousands of Africans die from preventable diseases, from war, and from famine. Every day. Many survivors choose to practice the basic human right of migration, following in the steps of people since the beginning of time. As migrants and refugees from across Africa flood into North Africa, rather than being welcomed, being admired for their tenacity and perseverance, they are arrested, mistreated, exploited, and delivered into the desert with no food, water, or means of survival. All the while, the world turns a blind eye to their suffering. This is the story of those human beings, and of a small program that has begun in the name of Christ, and in the name of humanity, to provide some relief to those who have made the journey. Whatever our views on immigration, as followers of Christ, we must respond to the human needs around us. May we embrace our migrant brothers and sisters, and open our hearts to the plight of Africa.
Reasons for Leaving
People migrate from their countries for many reasons; some are fleeing from civil war; others are escaping political persecution; still others leave their countries because of drought, poverty, and economic ruin. While many migrants hope to reach Europe, a vast number are merely seeking a place of peace, any place where they can have a future and live a normal life—marry, to have children, to be able to send those children to school. Although the continent of Africa is rich in culture, landscape, and natural resources, it also has some of the most impoverished nations, largest populations, and harshest living conditions in the world. Nearly half of all Africans live on less than a dollar a day.
The journey across Africa, heading north, is not a journey to be taken lightly. Migrants come by foot, by boat, by truck, by train, any way that they can. Some have been convinced by human traffickers that for about $1,000 their passage is guaranteed into Europe. The majority has simply come on their own. Over a third of them die en route. Thousands upon thousands of individuals and families walk across the continent, across the Sahara Desert. They face the perils of being exploited and/or abandoned by their guides, of becoming lost and dying of hunger and thirst, of being attacked, beaten, and raped by bandits, and of being arrested by unfriendly authorities. They face these great risks because oftentimes there appears to be no other choice—to stay in one’s country and face certain death or risk the journey and stand a fighting chance of surviving, of living.
Life in North Africa
Upon arriving in North Africa, after overcoming the hazards of the journey, the situation for migrants and refugees is dire. The more than 15,000 currently in Morocco reside in horrible conditions—with no provisions for food, shelter, and medical attention. The local authorities and population do not want them in their country and this contributes to an atmosphere of hostility and abuse. Racism runs rampant. Both the migrants with and without papers are at risk of being arrested and “deported” to the desert in Algeria. Even those with official refugee status are unable to work, and thus unable to support themselves or their families. Their children are not allowed to integrate into the local public schools. The majority of refugees and migrants live in ghettos where there are sometimes up to 20 people sharing a single unventilated room. Disease and lack of sanitation are the norm. Others hide in the northern forests near the Spanish border and in the desert east of the Canary Islands. New security programs and policies put in place by Europe have closed the doors of opportunity that once were open. These policies have severely limited the movement from the continent of Africa. Thousands of Africans have died since 2006 in efforts to migrate to Europe. The result is a human catastrophe in North Africa. Sub-Saharan Africans arrive and then find that they can neither go forward nor return home.
CEI—International Aid Committee
North Africa is the gateway into Europe but the gate is closed to most of the refugees and migrants, leaving them stranded here with little or no relief. The strategic geographical location of the French Protestant Church of Morocco (EEAM) leaves them well suited to reach out to this forgotten and desperate group of people. In August of 2004, they began officially responding to the human catastrophe of refugees and migrants, leading to the reactivation of the International Aid Committee or CEI.
Because it is easier to hide in the larger cities, Casablanca and Rabat have become the central locations for these migrants. CEI primarily works out of the local Rabat and Casablanca French Protestant churches, but also does work all over the country, including the northern forests. The program’s objective is to share Christ’s love with some of the most neglected peoples of the world, by meeting their physical and spiritual needs. The most concentrate efforts of CEI are focused in four main project areas: humanitarian assistance, medical aid, micro-enterprise, and student scholarships. CEI also encourages refugee and migrant pastors and churches.
The humanitarian assistance project is centered on individual interviews. Every week over 90 people are interviewed by team members to ascertain the most pressing needs, the most vulnerable cases. The project aids refugees and migrants with food, clothes, blankets, temporary emergency housing, short-term studies, judicial assistance, provisions for newborns and their mothers, funeral costs, and bibles upon request. People are also assisted with obtaining country identity and consulate cards, obtaining and mailing birth certificates, and paying police fees. On occasion, CEI has been able to assist migrants in returning to their home countries.
Under the Brown’s leadership, the medical project served over 30 people each week. Migrants can go to local clinics but often because of deep-rotted racism, rather than examining them, the doctors merely write prescriptions based on the client’s description of symptoms. The medical project also assists in the areas of consultations, dental and vision care, labs, hospitalizations, and other exams.
Refugee and migrant’s inability to work in Morocco leaves them unable to provide for themselves and their families. It also contributes to depression and hopelessness. In their home countries they worked in a variety of fields, as everything from artists, to professors, to mechanics, to accountants, just to name a few. Since the activation of CEI, over 200 micro-enterprise projects have been started, in such areas as dried fish, electronic repair, shoe repair, hair cutting, baking, food preparation, small commerce, plumbing, and others. Although refugees and migrants cannot work within the Moroccan community, they are able to have small enterprises within the refugee/migrant community, and from these enterprises they can generate a small amount of revenue to help pay for food and shelter. Along with the monetary benefit, they experience a renewed sense of hope. To a certain degree, micro-projects allow refugees and migrants to take control of their lives.
One of the most hopeful aspects of CEI’s work is in the area of student scholarships. Many students come to North Africa legally, with financial support, to study at one of the many universities. Oftentimes, however, due to instability in their home countries, deaths of family members, etc, the funds run out. When they do, the students are unable to pay their educational fees, they cannot renew their student visas, and they become illegal. Some of the “best and brightest” are stranded here—unable to finish their studies and return home with a vision to lead their countries. CEI’s scholarships reflect a long-term solution to the migration problem—the development of the countries of origin. After completing the comprehensive selection process the students are chosen. Africa loses thousands of skilled workers a year to developed countries. CEI believes that by ensuring that the future leaders of Africa have the opportunity to grow and learn, the stage is set for them to lead their own countries to a better future—a future of faith, of freedom, of peace, and of economic possibility.
As the future unfolds, CEI will continue to expand its outreach to the migrant population in Morocco in a variety of ways. Migration is a basic human right. Until the time when this principle is universally recognized, associations and organizations such as ours must bridge the gap. The future for African refugees and migrants is uncertain, but, as long as there is a need, CEI will be there to be a beacon of light in the dark unknown.
For more information or to learns ways to respond, contact us here, or by phone (502) 426-1931.
If you would like to respond financially to the refugee crisis in Morocco, you may send your donation by check to:
P. O. Box 7098
Louisville, KY 40257
Please indicate “Morocco” and the project number in the memo line of the check. 100% of these gifts provide assistance to the work in Morocco.
Refugee Medical Relief - Project #81412: This project is an effort to reach out with the love of Christ to people who are abandoned, abused, and neglected. Many live in the open and have no medical care - sickness and disease are rampant. This project responds to this need by providing the most necessary medicines to children and adults.
Refugee Relief Project - #81413: This project works to meet the most immediate spiritual and physical needs of the refugee. Areas of ministry include spiritual guidance and prayer, listening and encouragement, meeting basic needs - food, shelter, emergency lodging for medical crises, counseling on how to take the next step, and looking together for solutions for the future.
Student Scholarship Project - #81414: The project addresses the root cause of the refugee crisis by assisting African students in their final phases of study. These students, often the best and brightest, are then encouraged to return to their homeland to make a difference in their countries of origin.