Oujda: A gateway into Morocco for sub-Saharan migrants

By Maria Traspaderne and Mohamed Siali

Oujda, Morocco, Jul 14 (EFE).- On a street in the Moroccan city of Oujda, 20 boys look around tentatively having just crossed the Algerian border.

They have made it this far having fled from Sudan in pursuit of reaching Europe and the recent deadly tragedy on the Moroccan border with Melilla, a Spanish territory in North Africa, is not a deterrent, they say.

It is the second day of Eid al-Adha celebrations in Morocco, and as the afternoon heat sets in, the medina, or old town, of Oujda, a city just four kilometers from the northeastern border with Algeria, is deserted.

A couple roaming the dusty roads point at the Sudanese men and claim: “Those are the ones who have caused the war,” in reference to the heated clashes on Melilla’s border that placed an international spotlight on Morocco.

Another man appears with a bag full of bottles of cold water to hand out.

Some of the teenage migrants arrived in Morocco a day ago, some a week or two ago, and others have been in the Arab country for three years.

Morocco is the last stage of a long and harrowing journey to Europe.

Migrants travel for 5,000 kilometers using two routes via Libya, or Chad and Niger.

The group tells Efe that the Algerian border crossing takes place at dawn, often aided by smugglers who demand a fee of up to $300.

Ahmed, 15, who has been in Morocco for a week, says the worst part of the journey was traveling through Libya, where he was kept in cramped conditions sharing a cell with 700 people, and from where migrants can only leave by bribing the guards.

Ibrahim, 16, arrived in Morocco three days ago. He shakes his head and says: “Mine is a very long story.”

He was sold to a Libyan prison and was forced to pay around $1,000 to get out. He decided he had to leave the country.

The hellish conditions migrants encounter are what push many Sudanese travelers to Morocco rather than trying to reach Europe by sea from Libya.

Algeria’s return policy, which includes mass detentions and the deportation of migrants to Niger and Mali, fuels the migrant routes into Morocco, according to Youssef Chemlal from the Oujda-based migrant NGO AMSV.

Two years ago, there were practically no Sudanese migrants in Oujda, but according to the AMSV, between 3,500 and 4,000 have arrived since August 2021.

Some 60 refugees are on the streets, while a few months ago that figure stood at 400, according to the NGO.

Until recently the group of Sudanese boys lived under a bridge in Oujda, on a dry riverbed littered with garbage. They moved to the medina after someone tried to rob them.

Nassir and Abderraman, both 18, have been in Morocco for a year.

Abderraman witnessed the border tragedy on June 24, in which at least 23 migrants died, according to Moroccan authorities. Human rights groups have said up to 37 died.

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