Over the past few weeks, gruesome images have circulated depicting the ghastly murder of Charles Ndour, a twenty-five-year-old Senegalese migrant living in Morocco. Besides the outrage sparked in Senegal and Morocco by the conditions surrounding his death, the handling of the affair by Moroccan authorities has resulted in a fiasco overshadowing the progress achieved in the country to establish a “radically new” politics of migration.
Late on Friday 29th August, in Tangier’s peripheral neighbourhood of Boukhalef, tensions between sub-Saharans and Moroccans were high after a series of assaults on migrants resulting in several casualties, including one death. According to an eyewitness, some Moroccans stormed into the apartment where Charles Ndour lived with other migrants. They led the women to the back of the apartment and asked all the men but Charles to leave, “as if they wanted to make an example out of him, show what they were capable of, and terrorize us”. They slit Charles’ throat with a knife and pushed him out to die on the street.
Though shocking, Charles Ndour’s death does not come as a surprise. A week before, Vice UK published a feature article asking whether Moroccan gangsters were being paid to beat up sub-Saharan migrants. NGOs have for some time been denouncing the increasing tensions in this marginal neighbourhood on the outskirts of Tangier.
According to Hicham Rachidi, founding member of the NGO Gadem, between 800 and 1000 sub-Saharans live in Boukhalef, many eventually hoping to be able to cross over to Spain. NGOs and migrants point to the “marchands de sommeil”, or slumlords, who take hold of properties belonging to Moroccans living abroad and illegally rent them to migrants (as well as Moroccans) as a major source of community tension. Every summer, serious issues arise as Moroccans return for the holidays and migrants are forcibly evicted. In mid-August, Helena Melano, a Spanish activist, witnessed attacks on sub-Saharan migrants and was herself threatened whilst the police failed to offer any protection.
NGOs and migrants’ associations have denounced the disinformation over the affair, which has depicted the death as the result of an “altercation” between Moroccans and sub-Saharans. Evidence points to its premeditation and a general pattern of scamming and intimidation that migrants experience, unprotected by the police. They also stressed that, contrary to what had been alleged in the media, Charles Ndour was not an irregular migrant.
In any case, Moroccan authorities have done little in the face of racist and xenophobic attacks targeting migrants in Tangier and beyond. Little has changed since the deaths of two other Senegalese men last year: Ismaila Faye, stabbed on a bus in Rabat during a blatant racist attack, and Moussa Seck, who fell from the fourth floor in Boukhalef during a police raid in highly suspicious conditions. Following Moussa Seck’s death, Boukhalef saw xenophobic demonstrations, the setting up of a militia nicknamed the “syndicat des racistes” (aka the trade union of racists) and xenophobic demonstrations in the neighbourhood. Migrants in Boukhalef lament the impunity with which they are assaulted on a daily basis.
Parliamentary member Mehdi Bensaí¯d, from the PAM (Authenticity and Modernity Party) qualified Charles’ murder as “˜racist‘ and bewailed that in Morocco, “faced with immigration, [Moroccans] behave like the Front National in France”. The legislative draft for an anti-racism law that was put forward by the PAM last year is still on the parliamentary shelves. NGOs, gathered in a collective for the regularisation of all migrants (“Papiers pour tous“) and launched in March 2014 an anti-racism campaign (“Masmiytich Azzi”, aka “My Name is not Nigger”) to promote tolerance and equality. Deemed a success, the campaign even spread to Tunisia. Yet, Moroccan civil society still faces tremendous challenges to facilitate the integration of migrants into society and hold the state accountable for its failures.
Charles Ndour’s murder provoked indignation in Senegal and sparked calls for the organisation of a sit-in in front of the Moroccan embassy in Dakar. The Senegalese NGO Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l’Homme (African Assembly for the Defence of Human Rights) called for the Senegalese government to demand a thorough investigation and the Moroccan government to subscribe to its own international engagements. They also issued a call to the United Nations, especially the Committee on Migrant Workers, to send a Special Rapporteur on a mission to investigate crimes against sub-Saharan migrants.
According to Boubacar Séye, president of the Senegalese NGO Horizon Sans Frontií¨res (Horizon without Borders), “Morocco has become a land of torture, slavery and criminality committed against sub-Saharans in transit to Europe. It is time for exemplary sanctions to be taken in order to stop this”. To reassure the Senegalese government, Morocco had to send a delegation of the Conseil National des Droits de l’Homme (CNDH, National Council of Homan Rights) to Dakar.
Beyond the actual murder, outrage followed the reaction of the Moroccan authorities. Shortly after Charles’ death and over the subsequent days, Tangier’s authorities reacted to the spontaneous demonstrations by migrants with a wave of raids and arrests, including people who did not participate into the demonstrations but were arbitrarily picked up on the street. One of them explained how, after protesting he had nothing to do with the demonstrations, Moroccan police retorted that “blacks create too many problems”.
On 1st September, at least 25 migrants were tried for participation in an unauthorized demonstration. They were each condemned to a one-month suspended prison sentence and a fine of 1000dh (£70). Despite having been given ten days to appeal by the judge, the migrants were transported straight to Casablanca airport to be deported. The following day, 19 people (from Senegal, Ivory Coast, Cameroun, Mali, Niger and Nigeria) were effectively deported to Dakar.
Mustapha El Khalfi, Minister of communication and spokesman for the Moroccan government, declared that the deportations were in accordance with legal requirements. However, in a press release, GADEM pointed to numerous irregularities including failures to respect procedures (e.g. absence of interpreters, lawyers…) and the guaranteed delay of 48 hours to seize the tribunal and appeal the decision of deportation. Drawing parallels with the death of Moussa Seck in Tangier last year, GADEM denounced the removal and deportation of witnesses. It took extensive efforts by Moroccan NGOs and the CNDH to secure on the 6th September the release of the six remaining migrants who had started a hunger strike.
The Moroccan authorities have been caught red-handed almost one year after the royal communique calling for migration to be “approached in a global and humanist manner, in accordance with international law, [which illustrates] the constant implication of the Sovereign in favour of the protection of Human Rights “. According to a subsequent communique by the Moroccan government, these royal intentions constituted “a new vision of the national politics of migration, humanist in its philosophy, global in its content, responsible in its approach and pioneer at the regional level”.
In a commentary piece, sociologist Medhi Alioua expressed his bewilderment at the present debacle and wonders whether the reaction of the authorities was “voluntary sabotage”. Alioua laments that in the space of a few days a year of efforts to construct a dialogue between Moroccan civil society and the government had been jeopardized. Similarly, Saí¯d Bouamama, president of Association Rencontre Méditerranéenne pour l’immigration et le Développement (ARMID,), worries that the deportations might constitute a turning point for Moroccan authorities’ handling of migration issues.
Several questions remain unanswered over the motives for Charles’ murder and the reasons behind the perplexing reactions by the Moroccan authorities. Yet, this is not the first confusing message sent by Morocco since the start of this “new” politics of migration.
In mid-August, Spanish media denounced Morocco’s lax policing as more than 1200 migrants crossed over to Spain in only two days. Mohamed Hassad, Moroccan Home Office minister, admitted to “dysfunctions on the Moroccan side [of the border]”. But commentators in Spain and Morocco speculated that Morocco might have been trying to alleviate pressure in northern Morocco, “show dissatisfaction with Spain” and highlight its own importance in curbing irregular migration to Europe.
The decrease in security measures also coincided with the decision by a Spanish judge in Melilla to investigate collaboration between Moroccan and Spanish forces regarding the mistreatment of migrants at the border. However, the reduced security on the Moroccan side was brief as, shortly after, a Spanish NGO, Prodein, released a video and denounced the death of a Malian migrant during a Moroccan police operation outside Melilla between 16th and 17th July.
On 10th September, coinciding exactly with the first anniversary of the Royal declaration, Anis Birou, the Minister for Moroccans Established Abroad and Migration Affairs, presented an assessment of the past year and disclosed a strategy aimed at facilitating the integration of regular migrants and managing migratory flows in accordance with human rights. It was revealed that as part of the regularisation process for irregular migrants, 17757 applications had been received, of which only 5742 have been accepted. This figure is likely to increase as an Appeals Commission has been set up to examine the numerous, contentious refusals.
However, NGOs and migrants’ associations have criticized the lack of engagement with the continuous escalation of violence in northern Morocco. They have organized a sit-in in Rabat in front of the Moroccan parliament on 11th September. In contrast with the Moroccan government’s continuous announcements of a new politics of migration respectful of human rights, they stress that “the past year has resulted in the death of six sub-Saharan migrants following racist attacks and police interventions, the multiplication of assaults, mass deportations, notably from Northern to Central Morocco, the continuation of expulsions, which have created a climate of terror, notably in Northern Morocco and around the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla”.
In February, Human Rights Watch released a report (Morocco: Abuse of Sub-Saharan Migrants ) highlighting that the ill-treatment of migrants in Moroccan-Spanish border operations persists, despite Rabat’s reform.More recently, Morocco has admitted for the first time that it is currently building a fence on its side of the border with the Spanish enclave of Melilla, aimed at stopping irregular migrants from entering into Spain. Benkirane asserted that such a fence was for “the good” of the two countries.
Further, NGOs have denounced the use of flights to deport sub-Saharan migrants without respecting procedures and migrants’ rights. This is in stark contrast with previous practices whereby migrants were deported via land to the Algerian and Mauritanian borders. Deportations had stopped since the announcement of the “new politics of migration” in 2013, and the new modus operandi has worried activists that Morocco might be hardening its line in breach of its own legal framework.
The murder of Charles Ndour has tragically exposed the difficulties unravelling in Morocco as civil society engages with the Moroccan authorities to define what shape its new politics of migration should take. Morocco is attempting to re-negotiate its relationship with a Europe focused on border security where officials have again expressed the wish “to set in place a new form of cooperation with [transit] countries”, whilst increasing its co-operation with sub-Saharan neighbours. Activists in Morocco and beyond are striving to ensure that migrants’ rights are not squeezed in between.
Sebastien Bachelet is a PhD student in social anthropology at the university of Edinburgh.