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.
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.
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.
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.
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 …
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.
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.
I 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.
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.
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 …