By Fatima Zohra Bouaziz
Casablanca, Morocco, Jan 17 (EFE).- Hundreds of sub-Saharan migrants camped out in a Casablanca neighborhood are facing rising community tensions and the threat of eviction.
Ouled Ziane was once home to one of Morocco’s largest informal migrant camps until a fire ripped through the complex in 2019. Since then, migrants have scraped a living with makeshift shelters scattered around one of the neighborhood’s main avenues.
The situation is evolving, however, and on Monday police raids led to clashes and the arrest of six people.
The vast majority of the migrants hail from West Africa, and are passing through Morocco with the end goal of making it to Europe.
In Ouled Ziane, groups of people, mainly men although there are a few women, sit on plastic stools and cook over bonfires set up on the neighborhood’s main avenue, which is under construction for a new tramway system.
A long line of plastic bags filled with their belongings lie on the boulevard, next to pots, pans, and other cooking utensils.
At midday several migrants rest huddled with blankets, others observe their freshly laundered clothes hanging on the railings of a nearby bridge. Some wander around the site and nearby streets to beg for spare change from passersby and cars.
Over the last few days, the presence of the migrants has sparked protests from local neighbors, who are calling on the authorities to expel or relocate them, arguing that they have poor sanitary conditions and that Ouled Ziane is becoming increasingly unsafe.
Some of the migrants have begun to disperse to other nearby neighborhoods to avoid police raids and clashes with local residents.
“I used to live in Ouled Ziane, but there were many problems, we are too many and that creates problems with the neighbors,” Alpha, a Cameroonian migrant, tells Efe in an interview at a slum not far from the neighborhood.
“Look where we live!” he says while pointing to tents made of blankets and plastic.
According to him, police forces burn their belongings every week.
“We didn’t come here to live like this, to beg and bother the Moroccans. We don’t want this. We want to go to Europe,” Alpha adds.
He says that they would stay in Morocco if it were not for the poor living conditions, added to the cold and lack of work.
“If there were schools and a house to live in, we would stay. We don’t want food or clothes, we want work.”
The first migrant camp in Ouled Ziane was set up in 2012 and at one point housed up to 2,000 people, according to NGOs.
Beyeth Gueck, president of the NGO Bank de Solidarité, tells Efe that the camp was destroyed by a fire in 2019 and since then the migrants have remained clustered in and around the area, sleeping in the open with their belongings.
Gueck, who works to help the migrants access public health services, says the situation is desperate and calls on local and international authorities to relocate them to a better place.
“They have not come here to suffer, but to seek happiness for themselves and their families.”