Morocco – Creating secure spaces

The Diocesan Delegation for Tangiers Migrants is a church organisation that receives migrants in the north of Morocco. We paid them a visit.

The waters of the Atlantic Ocean encounter those of the Mediterranean off the coast of Tangiers, the seventh-largest city in Morocco. We are travelling along a broad and quiet road accompanied by Sr. Immaculate Gala, a Carmelite of Charity of Vedruna and head of the Diocesan Delegation for Tangiers Migrants (DDM). Long before reaching the cathedral, we can see its white tower, smaller than the imposing minaret of the nearby mosque.

It was in this main church of the diocese of Tangiers that the DDM took its first steps, ten years ago on the initiative of the then bishop of the North African See Mons. Santiago Agrelo, to differentiate the aid given by the church to the local population through Caritas from the specific support given to migrants. The DDM is still that secure space where the migrants are welcomed, listened to and can feel at home, as well as being a place where specific projects are carried out in response to the needs of the migrant population.

The DDM is open to all migrants without distinction. Those who wish to be accompanied spiritually are invited to speak with the priests of the seven parishes of the archdiocese. “Of course, the services offered are not meant to substitute the rights guaranteed by the Moroccan state, whether as health or legal protection and we have close collaboration with the Moroccan organisations”, Sr. Immaculada tells us. In the four DDM centres – Tangiers, Nador, Tetouan and Alhuceimas and also in Oujda, even though it is not yet part of the structure of the Deletion, tens of thousands of migrants have benefitted from its services, “But the strength of this initiative does not lie in its numbers but in the concrete persons and the human response given to their needs”, Sr. Immaculada adds.

The migrants who cross the north of Morocco form three categories according to their psychological state as they are about to make the crossing to Europe. The first is a state of anxiety in which one’s whole life is concentrated upon the crossing. These people are given humanitarian aid to meet their immediate needs.

The second group consists of people who, without losing sight of their desire to cross the sea, approach it more peacefully. For these, the DDM develops accompaniment, education, and training projects. The third group is composed of people who have abandoned the idea of going to Europe and want to settle in Morocco. These are supported while they are become inserted into the world of work.

At the headquarters of the DDM in Tangiers, we met the dozens of people who make up the staff of the centre. Each morning, the work of the day is planned and requests from migrants are analysed.

After the first general meeting, other more specific meetings are held with the leaders of each area in which it is decided who is to receive help, how it is to be given and who is to follow up each case. This is important since money is never given to them directly. For example, migrants are taken to the pharmacy, for medical check-ups or to the supermarket, or the rent of their accommodation is paid. Says Eric Parfait Foufou Talla, a Congolese and member of the team: “This method of being close to the migrants, in continual dialogue with them to get to know them, has changed a lot during the pandemic. Shops and offices have been closed for months, the laundry and showers have been closed and contact with migrants has been taking place by telephone. However, essential services such as food aid have kept going”.

Early in the morning, together with Sr. Immaculada, we travel the 56 km from Tangiers to Tetouan, close to the Spanish city of Ceuta where the DDM centre is under the responsibility of the Franciscan fraternity. The Costarican Brother who coordinates the service assures us that “The Church is the essential reference point for the Moroccan population through Caritas. However, the Franciscan continues, there is a noticeable reduction of Sub-Saharan immigrants because the authorities are exercising greater control over illegal migration; there have been raids and undocumented migrants have been arrested. Security measures have also been significantly increased along the Ceuta fences and it is almost impossible to cross them”.

Last May, Ceuta has seen the arrival en masse of at least 8,000 people – including youths, women, and children – in less than two days: Spain called out the army and has already sent back half of them. The crisis in Ceuta with less than 85,000 inhabitants are unprecedented. Never before has Spain had to cope with such a large number of migrants coming all at once into the territory after illegally crossing a border considered secure, especially on the Moroccan side.

In Tetouan, there are plenty of rooms with laundry facilities and showers, Wi-Fi or recreational games where people can socialise, but they were closed during the pandemic and are only now tentatively starting to open and return to normal. In 2019, the DDM team launched the project ‘Women’s Space’, with workshops for sewing, painting and psychological counselling. “Some of these women became pregnant during the migratory journey in relationships that were not always consensual. By means of games, a massage workshop for children and other activities, we aimed to improve the emotional ties of the women with their children”, Brother Sergio informs us.

The pandemic caused the project to be suspended but the Franciscan brother is determined to reactivate it. Besides welcoming, listening, and giving humanitarian aid, the DDM in Tetouan collaborates with other organisations that accompany migrants who voluntarily agree to return to their own countries.

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