Morocco-Algeria tensions tearing border families apart

Bouarfa, Morocco, Nov 3 (EFE).- A mother bursts into tears as she sees her daughter greeting her from distance, separated by the Moroccan-Algerian border which for decades has been closed due to tensions between the North African nations.

They are one of the thousands of families separated by the 1,500-kilometer land border, closed since 1994 due to bilateral tensions that have recently worsened.

Latifa, a 58-year-old Moroccan-Algerian woman, was unable to cross from Algeria, where she has lived with her husband and three children for 30 years, to attend her mother’s funeral in Morocco.

“Nothing can heal that wound of not being able to see my mother,” an emotional Latifa tells Efe three years on.

“It is unfair, I am close to my brothers and my uncles but I live separately, I cannot go to weddings or funerals, I only have WhatsApp,” she adds.

The last time Latifa managed to see her family was four years ago, when she borrowed money to embark on a long, expensive trip to bypass travel restrictions.

Others have not been so lucky, including Lakhdar, 66, who has not seen his sisters for decades.

“My parents were Moroccans who were expelled en masse by Algeria in 1975, but my sisters stayed there because they were married to Algerians,” he said.

“At first they crossed to visit us, but since the land border was closed in 1994 I have never seen them again,” he added.

Tensions flared up again in August when Algiers severed its diplomatic ties with Rabat and closed its airspace to Moroccan aircraft, the only option for families living on each side of the border to visit each other.

Mohamed, a 66-year-old Moroccan, explains to Efe that to see his Algerian nephews, who live about 180 kilometers from his home, he had to “go all over Morocco and Algeria” by both plane and bus.

The closure of Algeria’s airspace to Moroccan craft now forces families who wish to visit each other to stopover in France or Spain, adding to an already expensive trip.

In light of such complications, many people are turning to Moroccan and Algerian smugglers but this option has become increasingly dangerous due to the Moroccan military operation in Western Sahara, several family members told Efe.

Waiting for better times to come, separated families are content to meet at the Bin Lajraf border crossing, in the extreme northeast of Morocco.

It is a mountain cut in two with a road on each slope. One of the routes is Moroccan and the other is Algerian.

Down at the bottom of the gorge, the wire fence separates the two countries.

There, families who cannot afford plane tickets or dare to embark on a smuggling journey can be momentarily reunited, albeit 100 meters apart. EFE


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