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Morocco: Children behind the ramparts

Terre des hommes (Tdh) - Switzerland - Wed, 18 Jul 2012 13:01 GMT
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For the past five years the financial crisis in Europe is heavily questioning the European Union fundamental principles of its foundation. Along with the Arab Spring on the southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, the media is constantly relaying worrying messages to EU citizens from their political leaders about losing stability, failing economies and reduced social welfare and a changing identity.

The tens of thousands of Arab citizens fleeing revolution, “invading” Italy and France, are a real trauma for European conservative societies. The reestablishment of borders within the Schengen area is not a taboo anymore. Leaving Greece today to its own financial disaster looks like a denial of the very roots of Europe and democracy, yet it appears necessary for the sake of economic security. The EU institutions appear very weak compared to the reactions of its well established old member states. It is now up to the IMF director to recall the Greeks to pay their taxes, reminding them of the high needs of African children .

Let’s change the point of view and place ourselves on the other side of the ramparts of the European fortress. Let’s talk about Morocco, with its land borders with the EU since 1986 (Ceuta and Melilla Spanish enclaves). It is one of the well-known routes chosen by sub-Saharan migrants to enter Europe. Every year, unofficial estimations indicate that two to three thousands migrants from Western and Central Africa are in transit in Morocco, trying to reach Europe, including men, women and children.

For years now, studies on African migration show that more than 85% of the movements of migrants are within the continent . Transcontinental migration towards the US and the EU represents approximately 15% of the phenomenon of mobility. Now Morocco is more and more a country of destination – a new phenomenon for Moroccans…

EU institutions and old EU member states are asking Moroccan authorities to safeguard their borders. Every year, the EU spends millions of Euros on migration related topics. Spain maintains its historical relationships with the Kingdom of Morocco with a strong focus on security and migration policies . Police’s raids on the migrants’ illegal settlements are a direct response of the official visit of representatives of the Spanish Ministry of Interior last summer .

Moroccan associations and international NGOs are delivering services to migrants; the most vulnerable among them are isolated mothers and unaccompanied minors. A recent study from Caritas in Morocco showed that unaccompanied minors are getting younger and younger: 75% of unaccompanied minors are 14 years old or more. The Catholic organization records state that 89% of the unaccompanied minors in their services are between 10 and 18 years old, 13% among them are moving with brothers or sisters. Humanitarian NGOs are especially trying to assist women as they are vulnerable to all kind of risks, mainly sexual violence. In a report released by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in 2010, over half of the women interviewed said that they had experienced sexual violence in the border area between Algeria and Morocco, even though the border has been closed since 1994.

In May 2011, Tdh-Spain opened a day-care center for migrant women and children in Rabat . In twelve months, 357 women and children from sub-Saharan countries visited the premises run by its Moroccan partner Oum El Banine. The Moroccan association delivers mother and child health services and records show that the number of social counseling sessions has doubled compared to the estimations foreseen at the beginning of the project. Over 30% of the woman and children are suffering from serious traumas (sexual violence, persecution, death of family members) due to their migration history and their irregular administrative situation in the country. The medico-social team assisted more than 50 births in state maternity hospitals, also providing medical follow up of the mothers and babies, delivering basic assistance in hygiene, food and clothes. Their problems of decent housing and lack of incomes are appalling.

Nothing appears more surprising – the European Union is co-financing this project. It is within its migration policy to try to improve the living conditions of migrants blocked behind the fences. The logic is of course based on the fight against illegal migration in Europe, trying as well to insure access to vital services and respect of human rights . The EU is asking its southern neighbors to cope with the needs of migrant women and children in high risk situation due to a status that nobody wants to legalize – stateless persons. The EU policies in terms of international human rights and freedoms appear far more coherent than its Member States. In countries at the European Southern border, the migration policies seem to be discussed only during national elections, along with xenophobic ideas in reaction to the financial crisis.

This kind of project is very similar to many initiatives taken by European civil society to help vulnerable migrants already in Spain, France, Italy or Greece. All EU member states are confronted with this dilemma, either having direct borders to the South or East, or further on being transit or destination countries, such as northern Europe. Along their migration path, women and children continue to need assistance, and it has to be delivered by both civil society and public services in a complementary way. While public services try to cope with non-nationals, sometimes with small means, local associations are well placed to provide alternative support better adapted to the specific needs of migrants. The intercultural challenge is throughout the region. The fear of the ‘unknown’ is the usual reaction.

Are we able to understand individual situations? New born in Morocco, his mother is from Kinshasa… A two year old girl just arrived from Guinea Conakry at the Moroccan border with her parents … A 13 year old boy who left Ivory Cost with his younger sister; they plan to go to France to join their uncle… A 17 year old girl from Liberia, who only speaks English… Young woman from Cameroun, pregnant, she is looking for a safe place to live in Rabat…

Moroccan human rights activists are asking for “fraternity not Frontex”. This message might not be heard by Europe in its obsessive fear of instability, being far more concerned by maintaining its own welfare than to think about the children behind the ramparts.

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