Morocco —Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is deeply concerned about the deterioration of the medical and humanitarian situation of sub-Saharan migrants in Morocco after the intensification of raids and mass expulsions carried out recently by Moroccan police forces. Hundreds of migrants, including women and children, were deported to the no-man’s-land at the border between Morocco and Algeria and abandoned there during the night without food and water.
Police operations took place between August 19 and September 10 in cities throughout Morocco including Oujda, Al-Hoceima, Nador, Tangiers, Rabat, Casablanca and Fez. In many of the raids, police forces used bulldozers – and in Nador used helicopters – and destroyed migrants’ tents and houses.
An estimated 600 to 700 migrants were arrested during the raids and taken to the border between Morocco and Algeria. There, migrants were left to fend for themselves, without food or water. Among them were pregnant women, women with children and people with medical problems or with injuries directly or indirectly related to the police raids. They faced the choice of returning to Oujda on foot or trying to cross to the Algerian side of the border. Abandoned there in the middle of the night, they were at risk of being attacked and robbed by the bandits and smugglers who operate in the area. Those who have managed to reach the city of Oujda are completely destitute, without money, shelter or personal belongings.
“Our team has witnessed the direct impact of these mass raids and expulsions on the medical condition and mental health of the migrants,” said Jorge Martin, MSF’s head of mission in Morocco. “We provided medical support to a woman who had given birth to her child just six days before. She was arrested by the police forces and spent five days in a police cell with her newborn child. Then she was taken back to the border. She has managed to come back to Oujda, but is now suffering from acute gastrointestinal syndrome.”
During the past few weeks, MSF teams have seen an alarming increase in patients with medical problems related to incidents of violence. Of the 186 patients who have received medical care from MSF, 103 had lesions and injuries directly or indirectly linked to the violence during the arrests. The harsh living conditions and the lack of proper shelter have also contributed to the increase in medical problems. Almost half of the migrants who sought medical care from MSF teams had medical symptoms linked to the difficult and insanitary conditions in which they are living. Eighteen percent had skin infections, ten percent had respiratory infections and 11 percent had digestive problems.
“This intensification of restrictive measures to control migration in Morocco has a direct impact on the health and the dignity of migrants and refugees,” says Jorge Martin. Mass raids and expulsions to the border increase their vulnerability and put them at greater risk. MSF calls on the Moroccan authorities to adhere to their obligations under national and international law when implementing measures to control migration. The authorities must respect the dignity and integrity of migrants and avoid exposing them to a situation of greater vulnerability and insecurity. As stipulated in Moroccan law, pregnant women, children and other vulnerable groups of migrants must not be expelled to the border.
MSF has been working in Morocco since 2000, carrying out healthcare projects in Tangiers, Casablanca, Rabat and Oujda, providing sub-Saharan migrants with medical and humanitarian assistance and advocating for better access to healthcare and respect for migrants’ human dignity. Currently, MSF is running a project in Oujda providing medical and psychological care to migrants and refugees.