Migrants from sub-Saharan Africa flee wave of police raids in Morocco

Families arrested in the middle of the night at home, herded on buses and then left to fend for themselves in cities in the middle of the desert – since June 17, members of the sub-Saharan African community living in Morocco have been contacting us team, fearing the wave of arrests targeting migrants in Laayoune, a city known as a departure point for people hoping to reach Spain’s Canary Islands.

Koffi (not his real name) is from Ivory Coast. He lives in a neighborhood called March 25 (or March 25) in Laayoune, Morocco. The area is known as a gathering point for migrants who want to reach the Canary Islands of Spain by crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Koffi says the recent spate of arrests has been particularly violent:

The police arrive in the middle of the night, often around 5 am, when everyone is still asleep. They knock two or three times and if the person doesn’t answer, they break the door and let everyone out, including the women and children. Some people are willing to take big risks to escape the police. A friend broke his arm when he jumped out the window.

Most of the people targeted by these raids come from Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Mali or Togo. A video circulated online in which a man in a hospital room, his arm in a cast, explains how he injured himself when he jumped from the third floor in early June in an attempt to evade police.

In this video, the man describes how he broke his arm when he jumped from a balcony in an attempt to flee the police.

It was around 6 o’clock. We were sleeping when suddenly we heard a noise outside. We saw that it was the police. They chased us. There was a group of us on the balcony that had to go down. A few made it right, but others of us, well…

Initially I felt no pain, but half an hour later I had trouble walking. I didn’t know what to do, so I came here to the hospital.

I’ve been in the hospital for ten days now. I should have surgery.

Hassan Amari, an activist with the Moroccan Human Rights Association (known by its acronym AMDH), is closely monitoring the situation. He says police have not made arrests under the code because they “enter people’s homes without a judge’s order”.

Several people reported that after being arrested they were locked up for several days in a “dirty” detention center on the outskirts of Laayoune. Some were then herded into buses and taken to other regions, often in the desert near the Algerian border.

This video was filmed by Aminata (not her real name). The video shows migrants walking on the street in Tata on the night of Sunday 19 June.

On Monday, June 20, Aminata (not her real name) was able to return to Laayoune with several other migrants:

We took a taxi from Tata to Agadir for about 120 dirhams [around 11 euros] per person.

From there we took a bus to Tantan [Editor’s note: 330 kilometres to the south of Agadir, not far from the Atlantic coast] for 150 dirham [around 14 euros]†

We got off the bus before entering Tantan town to avoid a police barricade. We walked three miles to enter the city.

From there we took a ‘car mafia’ to return to Laayoune. We had to pay 350 dirhams for the transport? [around 33 euros]†

Several migrants we spoke to told us about this so-called ‘automafia’: smugglers who transport people to departure cities like Laayoune and Dakhla, where they can then attempt to cross the Atlantic.

‘To avoid arrest, we will hide in the fields’

Koffi took this kind of transport several times to get from Agadir to Laayoune.

The ‘automafia’ transport migrants in 4x4s. They remove the seats in their vehicles to make as much space as possible. Sometimes they put as many as 14 people in the back of the vehicle. These trips are often expensive. Depending on the distance, they can cost more than 100 euros. The drivers are Moroccans and Saudis. They drive on desert trails because if they take the main road they can be stopped by police or gendarmes.

Koffi says Moroccan authorities have made their controls much stricter since they re-started cooperating with Spain on immigration in May. This partnership was interrupted for two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic and a diplomatic crisis between the two countries.

For the past two weeks, police have raided neighborhoods where migrants live almost every night. To avoid arrest, we leave home around 5:00 PM every day and hide in the fields. Around 10 o’clock we go home again to sleep and rest a bit. Then we’ll do it all again at 5:00 PM. It is tiring.

In addition, when the police arrest migrants, they take their phones so they can’t film them. For example, there is no evidence if they are mistreated or beaten. That explains why so few arrest videos are circulating on social media.

This video has been shared with the FRANCE 24 Observers team. It shows two migrants fleeing from two pursuing police cars.

Moroccan authorities have not disclosed the number of people arrested since the start of the recent wave. Hassan Amari, who works at AMDH, says he thinks more than 1,000 migrants have been arrested since the beginning of June.