Chapter XVIII – Melilla – Spain

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To cross the frontier has been longer than expected.
Traffic jam at the gates, thousands of Moroccan passing by …

People coming to beg at your windows for money every minutes …
Border officers checking out the van and passing it through x-ray, looking for drugs or something else …
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Well, after 4 hours stucked at the border, I finally made it to Melilla, the second spanish enclave of Morocco.

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Here the first thing I had to do was to get comfortable with language … I used to speak spanish, and I still remembering the most of it but, to switch from english to french, Arabic and spanish in that few time is somehow really disturbing.
So I started speaking with a mix of the four languages which was somehow wired for me, but must have been funny for the locals.

And I first meet Llunaida who’s the lady who welcomed me in the little city-state.
She was born here and has spent most of her life fighting for equality and human rights, as her family like many other here has amasir roots.

She was involved in many things and was naturally working in an NGO called “movimiento por la paz”, movement for peace, which was working on the fields of social inclusion, intercultural exchange and equality of human rights … then we naturally complemented each other work and she brought me a lot in my research.

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She told me about the old story of the city; the fact that under Franco, the dictator was involving moroccan and amazir people to fight against the republicans, which was explaining one part of the cultural, ethical and migratory situation of the enclave.
Yuni drove me to the borders of her small piece of country, which was surrounded by 5 circles of fences about 4-5 meters high …

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Here the fortress Europe was physically drawing the lands but she also taught me that it hasn’t always been the case … telling me that 30 – 40 years ago, the border was a simple little barrier that everyone could jump on and cross … and at the time, immigration and frontier and all the troubles that we know nowadays didn’t exist …

She also told a out the dreams and hope of the population : to leave this place … to escape from the town and to reach the peninsula.

Such a difficult thing when you barely get enough money to pay the rent and can’t save enough to pay a flight ticket … such a hard thing to find a work abroad in spain or europe … then … many of the people have to stay here, trapped in the little enclave where most of the jobs are provided by the army or the ”guarda civil” to protect the border and to make the place ”safer” leaving the citizens living in a palpable fear and paranoia.

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And then we started working … I met Miriem who was the Yuni co-worker. The two of them were giving classes to the women in need of the city.9

Indeed, a lot of them where staying here without papers, without a job etc … facing the harsh conditions of being both, foreigner and women, in a place that had more of a jungle than a town.

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Here the dream of Europe was showing its other face, excluding the ones who could not fit the scheme of the society.
And the Moroccan women surviving here were struggling for a lot of things.

First, they were enduring the patriarchal tradition, having to stay at home, caring for the cook, the cleaning and the kids …
By doing so, few of them were enable to go out and to learn from the outside world … ignoring how to speak spanish, and so to go to school, and then enabled to learn anything, to communicate, to work and then to empower themselves.
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All of these challenges were what the Movimiento Por La Paz was trying to solve …

I followed Yuni to met the women, and not having that much time ahead of us, we started doing a story telling project about these women, about their life, the way they were seeing the world, the peace, education, the women conditions etc … and it was intense.

And it’s funny and sad to see the change of statu that are facing these women who are the one who’re against the migrants in their country 10km away, and the ones who’re facing the rejection and racism here …
And I don’t care about their origin country as they are facing the same problems that I founded abnormal and unfair.

Because doing this work is not about one population that suffers, it’s not about a genre, or a country … it’s about trying to figure out and to help wherever the people have to move for whatever reason, it’s about understanding their life and their needs to make their journey better and to try building a better world for them, for me and all the other …

Chapter XIV – Ceuta – Spain

 

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To leave again is kind of difficult as you have to go back to a different way of life : switching to survival mode is not that easy …

It takes time, and, I had a bit of preparation while crossing France and Spain.
During the 25hours journey, I had the time to think and to plan what I was going to do next.

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Of course I already had a list of destinations to go to and a tons of things to do … but it’s never really the same on the ground.

 

phto-4 Between what you’ve planned and what is actually happening, there’s a huge difference.
Then, on the road, I prepared some Plan B just in case, I also had the opportunity to re-acclimate to the nomadic life, sleeping on the van, looking for WiFi network, looking for service station to park etc …
It’s like the bike, you never forgets …

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phto-3Ceuta is a Spanish enclave in northern Morocco … it’s one of the two Spanish cities located in the country, the only european points in Africa.
Then no need to say that’s the border of the places are more than well-checked.
Ceuta feels like being in a jail, a golden prison where people try to get in rather than escaping.

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And the city is full of Moroccan, both, able to stay and clandestine migrants.
There’s also some Spanish … plenty “guarda civil” too.
Some people coming back from Europe with their car full of stuff for their families back in the country.

 

exile-2-0-part-ii-60Well … I didn’t feel well being trapped in this 6km piece of Europe … enable to do anything but to feel the pressure of the border.
I’ve been trying to find helpers there who could advised me … in vain.
I’ve been to the fences and the “mirador” near Bel Younech, the frontier …
I could feel the people hidden in the forest and the mountain around, waiting for their chance to cross to the city through the lands or the sea …
I met few people sleeping in the street, on the beaches, I gave them what I could … nothing more unfortunately.

 

The day after, I crossed the Moroccan border and saw there the hundreds of people packed at the fences … shouting at the guards, queuing at the gates which were closed.

Chapter XVII – Oujda – Morocco

 

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Oujda is another city everyone was telling me about.
The place was the last Moroccan city before Algeria and the big wall that has been built to separate the two countries in bad relationship.

I’ve been told that long time ago after the war with French Algeria has pushed out of the country the Moroccan expatriates living there that created tensions between the two governments.

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Officially the border has been close for two decades now and while Algerian government was digging a hole to make the frontier impenetrable, Morocco was building a wall to make it even clearer.

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But I wasn’t going there only to see how the frontier was taking form in reality but also to discover the situation of migrants there.

As a matter of fact, like in many other place in the world the cities near the countries borders were always hotspots for migratory flows that would pass by as a transit point.
And oujda wasn’t different.

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Many of the migrants coming from western Africa (ivory coast, Cameroon, republic of central Africa, Congo etc …) were first arriving in Algeria from Mali. Then after a long struggle in the country, facing all the kind of abuse they could go through they were relieved, throw away at the border to try their chance to cross.

And that’s why most of the migrants i’ve been meeting in Casablanca, tanger, Rabat and the other place of Morocco had all entered the country passing by oujda.
Jeanne told me once that it was like a myth for her, a place she never saw everyone was referring to.

Then I decided to go there (as I couldn’t cross the Moroccan Algerian border by land at least I would go the further I could.)

On my research I get to know the association Al Wafae which was operating in the city, providing help, educational programs and life support for the migrants of the city.
After a 6-7 hours drive, the president Sabiha and the director Jawad welcomed me with all the team the day I arrived : Yassir, Dasilva, Leila, and the 4 other members of the association were very kind.

As I arrived the day of the 101th anniversary of the Moroccan flag, we didn’t work and Yassir shown me the city, the medina, the cafeterias etc … we spoke a lot about the Moroccan religion, culture and tradition, we played cards with Mohammad, Ahmed and his other friends … For a little while I’ve been experiencing a deeper interaction with the Moroccan daily life.

It reminded me that’s always strange to work along the migration topic abroad, as you’re in a country but you interact with people that have nothing to do with it, you’ll never really spend time with the true locals to taste the life as it is. Well, It reminded me that the two months I’ve been spending in Morocco where most of my time spent with Sub-saharian people, talking french, talking about their cultures etc …, complaining how bad this country was and all the kind of stuff that you can expect from a displaced person in a foreign country … And I rarely appreciate being surrounded by Moroccan who where also eager to share their culture, to learn from me and to interact (sometimes difficultly) with me. To be honest, I really appreciated these moments, learning about their stories, their dreams, their habits etc … going to the Hamam, eating local foods and stuff … it puts you in a different position than the “Westerner coloniser” one that I hate.

 

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Then we start working at the association. I met the “persons of interest”, benefiting from the different workshop that was giving Al Wafae : Cooking, Sewing, Computing, Speaking Arabic, Hair-dressing etc …

 

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And more than simply giving the workshop as I could experienced before in NGO’s in Casabanca or Rabat, Al Wafae was giving the students a diploma at the end of the classes that was enabling them to apply for an internship in a company or a shop and then to hopefully be employed or to start their own activity.

 

 

Honestly I founded it more engaging, more interactive for the migrants wh cloud include themselves into the society quicker and better as they were learning and living mixed with both Syrian, Yemenite, Morocan and Sub-Saharian … This bunch of mixed people was helping everyone to better understand each other and I’d say that I truly felt that the racism between communities was far lower here, in a place that was the most affected by the migration.

 

The common language was also a mix of Syrian-Moroccan Arabic distilled with French and English which was creating a funny universal language.

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As it seemed, like everywhere else, the biggest problem here in Oujda was the housing of people … including them and socialise with them was no longer a big issue but to make it properly the migrants still needed a descent place to stay and to live while attending their lessons, as a matter of fact like everywhere it was difficult for them to remain present to the classes if they had to look for a shelter every single day.

Unless the several difficulties, the organisation al wafae was trying its best to improve people life … Sabiha, Benyounes and all the other were devoting most of their life to this cause. And they are random people like you and me, having a job, struggling to earn their life but meanwhile, spending all of their energy in the help.

11I founded the situation in Oujda much less worse than I expected.
Of course migrants were also struggling here, poverty and misery might be one of the things that never really change wherever you go, but I would say that their global situation was better than what I experienced in the big cities.

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Here was a transit place, a smaller city than Rabat, Casablanca … and a less strategic point for the migrants like tanger or nador …
Even though the Algerian border was very close … even if people were still arriving in harsh situations … the living conditions and the society mindsets about these people was not as rude as I expected.

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It may came from the good work of the ngo’s there, which were collaborating together instead of fighting for the good work. They quickly understood that without a common work, each organisation couldn’t deal with the problem. So they created a ”protection group on the field” that was composed of different ngo like UNHCR, MdM, OMDH, IOM, Al Wafae etc … each one of them were complementing each other and were providing help at all the levels of life they could to improve the conditions of the migrants ; administrative, clothing, housing, feeding, teaching and socialising, curing etc …