Rabat - Thousands of migrants living in Morocco, including
hundreds of refugees who fled wars in Africa, face a bleak dilemma - whether to
settle in this transit country with scant opportunities or brave the perilous
journey to Europe.
"We do not know what to expect in the future,"
says Blessing, a 13-year-old Congolese girl, at a refugee centre in Rabat.
Morocco was hosting up to 25 000 sub-Saharan migrants at the
end of 2012, the vast majority of whom at least initially were hoping to make
it to Spain, non-governmental organisations say.
Gradually, however, the north African country is turning
into a permanent home for these immigrants.
Among them are around 900 refugees, mostly Ivorians and
Congolese who have fled wars back home, more than half of them women and
Refugee status granted by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR)
gives them hope of rebuilding their lives.
But despite Morocco being the first Arab country to ratify
in 1956 the Geneva Convention, their situation here is "fragile and
ambiguous" in the absence of an adequate legal framework, the UNHCR's
representative Marc Fawe told AFP on the occasion of International Refugee Day.
Without a residency permit "they are merely tolerated
and cannot sign a rental or work contract", he said.
Despite these hurdles "Morocco is beginning to be
treated as a final destination and not just a transit country", he said.
"The situation is better than in Mali where I first
tried to settle," said Ronaldo, 16, who left Ivory Coast two years ago.
"We tried Cameroon and then Benin, but had no success.
In Mauritania we stayed for a bit, but it's not the same as here," added
At the gates of a Europe in crisis, Morocco at least offers
the migrants stability, and there are some organisations to support them, such
as the East-West Foundation which receives about 800 visitors annually.
"When migrants arrived in the early 2000s, Morocco was
not ready and they were badly managed. But since then there has been a marked
improvement and today we can carry out all our activities without any
problems," said the foundation's president Yasmina Filali.
With the support of half a dozen local and international
groups various assistance programmes have emerged, notably for schooling.
"Some have seen terrible things... [and so] school is a
lifeline," said Filali.
After taking courses in Darija, or Moroccan Arabic, the
children have a chance of being integrated in public schools, as was Blessing's
younger sister - she came "first in her class."
"This is a real success. In the past three years, 150
children have been integrated in all," Filali added.
But while there have been successes, there are also lot of
"Some are in very precarious situations. Only when they
have been able to meet their basic needs can they concentrate on other
things" like work, said Anna Prieur, a French volunteer with the UNHCR.
But it is impossible for them to find work outside the
informal sector and sometimes the only means of subsistence is the modest aid
provided by the UNHCR, which is reserved for the most vulnerable.
Budget management workshop
The UN agency says the kingdom "can do more",
especially in offering the refugees legal status, which would enable them to
look for regular work and protect them from predatory landlords.
Attending a "budget management workshop" organised
by the Prieur, Ronaldo has mixed feelings about his stay in Morocco - where he
says he has experienced "discrimination" and an overbearing sense of
"I came alone, I live alone, I'm always alone, even
though I have found friends among the refugees," he said.
Trained in hotel management, he sees his life as being
"I believe this is just the first step," he adds.
But Blessing, the Congolese girl, is more upbeat.
"At first it was not easy, the environment, racist
reactions, for example from proprietors. But over time we have learnt to
integrate ... to avoid problems."
Some "could be fully integrated," said the
East-West Foundation's Filali.
"But we remain a host country by default. There is
always an attraction to Europe, even if the situation is not good here or