“I thought the border was a line, but it was much more: it’s the bandits, cops, military, dogs, fences, moto-mafia, guns. But it is also fear, the heart that speeds up, the body that trembles, the eyes that close, the voice that breaks. In this moment, your body is at the mercy of everything, absolutely everything.” 
These words of F.S., published recently in the report “Life at the Necrofrontier” by the collective Caminando Fronteras, provide a profound and graphic refutation of any talk of rational, bureaucratic border management by the EU and their counterparts. They make a mockery of the political negotiations over border lines and their protection.
In the Western Med, the local Alarm Phone teams are in direct contact with the effects of the border regime on those, like F.S., who are in direct confrontation with the EU’s ‘politics of migration’. We see the daily struggles and violent realities of people in transit. It is not easy to remain calm whilst following the abstract political discussions of border management; on how to ‘more effectively contain irregular migration flows’, whilst personally witnessing the true meaning of these bland phrases. We have friends and comrades in limbo who are reduced by this discourse to numbers and objects of negotiation. These flows, in reality, are living people until they are murdered by the measures used to contain them. Nor is it easy to follow the proposals for the reduction of sea rescue capacities once you have been on the phone with people in distress at sea when there is ‘no rescue asset in the vicinity’.
In the Western Med Regional Analysis, we attempt to document the situation of people on the move through Morocco and to relate the everyday struggles to the larger political context and developments. We try to contribute to a greater awareness about the reality of externalising the EU border through its collaboration with the Kingdom of Morocco and the crucial role of the Kingdom in the attempt to shut the Western Mediterranean Migration route.
Living, witnessing and documenting the ongoing violence and repression while reading about another €30 million from Spain to Morocco can only enrage us. That money will finance crimes, violent attacks and interceptions of people desperate enough to risk the dangerous journey across the sea. The same Moroccan forces that Spain and the EU support, steal people’s possessions, phones and with them most communication possibilities. They destroy entire homes. Friends and families, your crucial support units in these precarious situations, are being ripped apart by arrests and refoulements. This needs to be brought to the awareness of the public. Shockingly, in Western Europe the media coverage on migration via Morocco is still astonishingly low.
This report covers political developments, exemplary incidents and activist responses in the Western Mediterranean from June to July 2019. It includes information from media, official data and press releases as well as NGO reports and activist voices, but first and foremost it is based on testimonies and reports of people being blocked in transit all across Morocco.
Sea crossings in June/July: Rising numbers
The numbers of successful border crossings to Spain (sea and land border) rose again in June (2,823 boza) and even more in July (3,262 boza). The Alarm Phone worked on 18 distress cases in the Western Mediterranean during the period covered by this report. 5 boats were eventually rescued by the Spanish rescue organisation, Salvamento Marítimo; 13 boats were intercepted by the Moroccan Marine Royale. As in the previous months, the proportion of interceptions remains significant. Most groups though are intercepted whilst still on land. The Moroccan ‘Forces Auxiliaires’ manage to stop the travellers in the forests as they try to reach the coast line.
Salvamento Marítimo have stopped proactively patrolling in the Strait of Gibraltar or the Alborán Sea and now tend to alert the Moroccan Marine Royale when, nevertheless, they spot a boat. Boats, as a consequence, are less likely to boza — to reach Spain. The Western Mediterranean route is no longer the most promising sea route to Europe: With 16,391 arrivals in 2019 up to 29th of July, it is the second most successful route, behind the Aegean crossing towards Greece (23,471 arrivals). Nevertheless, as each individual tends to make a large number of crossing attempts and given the nearly equally high number of interceptions, we can confidently believe that it is in fact the most attempted route.
Fatal route: Crossings to the Canary islands
The passage to the Canary islands continues to be more and more frequented. Up until the end of June, 455 people have arrived this year. But it also remains one of the most dangerous routes, as the distance from the points of departure in Morocco, Western Sahara or even Senegal to the Spanish islets is dangerously long and the Atlantic ocean is a rough sea. We also have to witness many people not reaching the islands alive. Most of the victims are simply buried by the sea. Many remain unidentified. Sometimes, with much hard work, organizations such as CEAR are able to provide a dignified burial. This was the case with the 13 months old, Sephora. Sephora and the other travellers had been at sea for 4 days, when Sephora was taken from her mother by the ocean in a shipwreck on the 16th of May.  Her small, lifeless body was washed ashore at a nearby beach a day later. Sephora was buried on the 6th of June.
The Spanish radio and news channel Cadena SER investigated the details of this deadly journey. There were a total of 31 travellers, among them 4 children. According to the report, the women had tried to abort the journey after seeing the condition of the dinghy, but had been forced on to the boat. During the journey, they had to endure sexual violence, and according to court appointed investigators their life jackets were fakes. A woman, who had already reached the beach, drowned whilst she was trying to swim back to the dinghy to search for her 8 year old daughter. Her daughter survived, but the woman’s body was found hours later, 4 miles away from the disaster.
Other shipwrecks and odysseys remain invisible and the stories untold. On the 28th of June, the Moroccan Marine found 6 corpses at the height of Sidi Ifni, south of Tiznit, floating in the water, including a mother with her newborn child. They were probably part of a shipwreck of 39 people on the 26th of July. In the last week of July, Alarm Phone was contacted by several people searching for news about that friends or relatives who had left on boats which had left from Dakhla and Laayoune heading for the Canaries. We couldn’t find out whether these specific boats had been intercepted or arrived. The people searching have not as yet been able to make contact with anyone on board. The group may be further victims of the European border, lost to the sea.
The “Necrofrontier” – a border of invisibilized tragedies
According to Caminando Fronteras’ “Life in the Necrofrontier”, at least 1020 people died or went missing in the Western Mediterranean border zone in 2018 and the first quarter of 2019. The NGO counted 70 shipwrecks and 12 missing boats in the three routes towards Spain (towards the Canary islands, across the Strait of Gibraltar and across the Alboran Sea). About 79% of the victims are not registered as dead, but as missing, a fundamental distinction for the families and communities that lack bodies to bury and graves at which to mourn. Furthermore, “the absence [of evidence] invisibilizes the story of violence that led to the disappearance [of the missing ones],” states Caminando Fronteras. Also for the International Committee of the Red Cross, “disappeared persons should be presumed to remain alive until their fate is determined”, and they have the right to be sought by the relevant authorities and to have the circumstances of their disappearance investigated.
Most of the corpses washed ashore in the Strait of Gibraltar or were picked up by the Marine Royale. In Tanger, according to a report by the Plateforme Nationale Protection Migrants (PNPM), some 98% are never identified. Families cannot be informed about the fate of their relatives. This not only means that families and friends wait desperately for years for a phone call about their missed one who is presumed still to be trapped in transit somewhere, but the absence of a death confirmation also hinders funerals and ‘closure’, if the term can actually ever be applied, for the ones never giving up hope. Furthermore, without a death certificate, remarriage remains impossible, as does the redistribution of land among siblings, disbursement of inheritances, etc. In its famous “Marrakech Pact”, the United Nations imposes the following objective on States party to the treaty: “To make every effort to identify and repatriate the bodies of deceased migrants to their countries of origin, while respecting the wishes of bereaved families”. Morocco has signed, but is far from meeting this obligation.
A vivid example of the deadly consequences of the Spanish policy of further withdrawal from engagement in sea rescues is the tragedy of the 19th of July. That day, 22 people lost their lives, partly due to the political restrictions on Salvamento Maritimo (SM) when it comes to sea rescues in the Alboran Sea. Caminando Fronteras had alerted SM to the boat in distress, but the Spanish Rescue Organisation would only activate aerial assistance (1 air force plane and two Frontex assets). Two other vessels were in the vicinity, the SM vessel Clara Compoamor and the Rio Mino of the Guardia Civil (the new agency in charge of SM). Both vessels did not patrol outside of the area of Spanish responsibility. Only the next day, a private vessel detected the dinghy. 27 people were still on board, including a girl, but 22 people had already fallen into the water and were missing. Only then did SM engage. 6 people had to be transported by helicopter to a hospital in Almería. The remaining surviving passengers were picked up by a rescue vessel. The Marine Royal has proved to be an unreliable partner in uncountable SAR operations. This tragedy would have been avoided if Salvamento had engaged in a search of the broader vicinity (as it still did in summer 2018), instead of leaving the responsibility to the Moroccan navy.
Ongoing Refoulements – new destination: Azilal and the Mauritanian no-man’s land
On 30th of May, the authorities of the governing coalition in Tiznit, consisting of PJD, PPS and the RNI, expressed their stance towards the refouled Sub-Saharans in a joint communqué. Not even trying to disguise their racist perspective, they criticised the ‘unloading of Africans’ and “the flooding of the city of Tiznit by many social phenomena”, referring to sub-Saharan African migrants, to the great displeasure of the population’s will and its right to live in dignity and security”. What is correct in their position is that there are no adequate facilities to receive the expelled and barely any work opportunities for those trapped in Tiznit until they can manage to pay for a bus ticket to return north again. Therefore people have to rely on begging to survive. They have to use the café restrooms around the makeshift camp at the bus station for their basic needs, fetching water or to charge their phones.
It is unclear how the slight shift in the destinations to which people are pushed back towards places even further south is related to the protest of Tiznit officials against being the main ‘drop off’ of the detained. On 26th of June, 200 travellers were expelled to Azilal, a mountain province in the High Atlas. To be dropped off there, instead of Tiznit, is much more difficult for the people since it is not easy to walk or organise transport back north.
We also received more and more reports about people being expelled to the no-man’s land between Mauritania and Morocco, a desert area of several square kilometres. It is also a mine-field because it is in the conflict zone in the war between the Frente Polisario and the Moroccan state. On 15th of July, a group of sub saharan travellers reportedly tried to reach the coast around Achakkar in an attempt to row towards Spain. They contacted Alarm Phone some days later, explaining that already in the woods they had been attacked by ‘clochards’, who raped the only woman in the group and stole all their resources and personal belongings. They were then handed over to the military and brought to a prison cell where they had to stay for 3 nights before they were deported to Tiznit. In Tiznit prison, the girl was raped again, before they were eventually taken further south and abandoned somewhere in the desert of Mauritania. They walked for several hours until a lorry picked them up and took them back to Morocco. It left them in Tiznit.
Arrests and expulsions don’t decline. In Tanger Medina, black people, with or without legal status, are still routinely arrested. But it is not only random, or, more actually, racist arrests in the streets which continue, but it also organised large scale operations that do not cease. One example is the operations on the 12th of July. Local contacts informed us that raids happened throughout the whole night in houses in the residential area of Mesnana/Tangier. The systematic raids now happen in cities previously not targeted by the authorities. On the 6th of July, large scale police operations happened in the previously calm city of Berkane. We received messages at 5 in the morning alerting us to police raiding rooms and arresting sub saharans in several streets. 15 people were detained in relation to the arrest of an accused of being a trafficker in Nador. Raids continued throughout the next few days with many more sub saharans being caught and most of them expelled to the south. There was an Alarm Phone comrade among them. Some are still in custody. There are, as yet, no charges or information as to how long they will be detained.
Violent racist attacks
On 3rd of June, a group of black people was violently attacked and stabbed by ‘clochards’, a group of criminals, in Tangier. Photos of bloodstained faces and bodies circulated on social media and the Morrocan Human Rights Association AMDH denounced this all too typical incident on their Facebook page: “Seeing the violations committed every day by the Moroccan authorities against sub-Saharan migrants, these criminal gangs consider migrants as easy prey: they cannot submit a complaint because they will be arrested and deported and even if the complaint is submitted, it is never taken seriously”. A day before, the AMDH reported on two sub saharan women who had been kidnapped in Nador and only released after their families paid a sum of €250. Omar Naji, president of AMDH Nador, summarises the situation, “It is becoming very dangerous and we hold the Moroccan authorities responsible for not doing what is necessary to stop these criminal gangs, especially since these attacks have increased in recent days.” “They [the authorities] do not guarantee migrants, regardless of their status, the right to complain when they are victims of aggression.”
These reports of violent attacks are just exemplarily, as incidents continue to occur, not only in the frontier zones but also in cities far south as Tiznit, where i.e. the throat of a young man was cut with a knife on 17th of June, he barely survived. Often groups of ‘clochards’ are reportedly the perpetrators, as on 10th of July, when aggressions by a group of men let to knife-injuries of several young sub saharans in Mesnana / Tangier.
These incidents clearly have a racist background/ motivation or are incited by police as politics of deterrence.
Several racist attacks took place in Ceuta. These include threats, assaults, and violent robberies of children who live in the port or the travellers registered in the CETI. 3 Ceutí adults and three minors have been arrested in this context. The three adults will appear in court on 25th of July. This is not the first time that minors reported that adult men had beaten them up or threatened them in the port of Ceuta.
Fire and eviction of Ouled Ziane camp, Casablanca
The eviction of makeshift camps continued in July with one of the last big remaining camps, the Camp of Ouled Ziane in Casablanca being destroyed. The camp had existed since December 2016. An immense fire ravished the camp on 30th of June. Many people were hospitalized and the whole camp structures were burnt. It was the 4th time in the past year that the camp has burnt down. It is not easy to extinguish the rapidly expanding flames in a makeshift camp. As the situation in these precarious conditions is tense, violent clashes in the camp were frequent. One lead to the death of a young Guinean on 18th of March. Conflicts arose between the different communities and also between the inhabitants and the local residents. After the latest fire, many people sought refuge in the entrance to the nearby train station. The police started the eviction of the camp and the train station on 11th of July, despite the heavy protest of the people concerned, who had nowhere to go, and who had anyway lost most belongings in the fire. They demand their right to freedom of movement and an undisturbed passage to Spain.
Financial and material back up for border repression: The involvement of the EC and Spain
On Friday, 5th of July, the Spanish government agreed to support the Moroccan government in its effort to thwart trans-border migration by donating to the Moroccan Interior Ministry a fleet of vehicles and other border control materials, such as radars and scanners. The total cost is around €26 million. It forms part of the €140 million that was agreed upon by the European Commission as financial support to the Kingdom of Morocco to block the Western Mediterranean Migration route in October 2018 and that has not yet been entirely disbursed. Half of the sum was to be injected directly into the Moroccan budget, and €70 million was planned to be disbursed in kind, as border control material. Part of this amount is managed by Spain.
On the 19th of July, the Spanish government decided to provide another €30 million in financial assistance to Morocco to support the efforts to curb irregular immigration — or more accurately, beat, maim and kill people — at its southern borders. This sum will be on top of the €140 agreed upon by the EC.
The Spanish Ministry of Interior has recently updated the video surveillance system throughout the Ceuta border. 41 DOMOS cameras and 11 fixed cameras have been replaced and 14 new technical cameras and a more modern platform for monitoring the video surveillance system have been installed. Facial recognition systems will also be launched in the near future.
Express deportations to Morocco
Express deportations from Spanish territory continue to happen. One example is a group of 50 travellers that had landed on the Spanish island of Chafarinas. They were brought first to Melilla forced to apply for Asylum, then 34 of them were forcibly returned to Morocco.
José Palazón, human rights activist in the enclave of Melilla, reports that the 15 women and children within the group were transferred to the reception center, CETI, the children’s centre or the hospital. “The male individuals were transferred directly from the boat to a dungeon of the PN [Policía National, National Police] and the next day to the asylum office at the border post of Beni Enzar: no showering, no changing of clothes, no eating… without passing the protocol health inspection etc. At Beni Enzar’s post, the individuals waited in the street, sitting on the ground, in the middle of the border and enduring insults, being thrown objects, photographs etc. of the thousands of people who pass through that border every day, until they had to enter the office for the asylum interview,” Palazon said.
One person was in need of medical attention, but the authorities wanted to process his asylum interview first, prolonging his suffering. In the end they couldn’t conduct his interview and had to take him to the hospital. “The direct orders from the Ministry were to do the interviews quickly to deny them in record time. […] It seems that Marlaska wants to have the appearance of fulfilling the formal requirements to expel them but nothing more.” Palazon writes on his Facebook page. “Now they play and try to defeat individuals so that they apply for asylum and they mock the right to asylum as they have always mocked the rights of individuals. […] Bad times for black people, for white men things are not like that. For white men it’s never like that, at least not today.”
Human rights activist, Helena Maleno, tweets and condemns the express deportation, as well as the Spanish Commission of Refugee Support (Comisión Española de Ayuda al Refugiado, CEAR). She reminds the world, that, in the context of this incident, in order to guarantee access to effective judicial protection and, according to the doctrine of the European Court of Human Rights, “it is necessary that persons whose application for international protection has been rejected at a border post, a procedure applied in this case, have an effective remedy before a national authority”. This is enshrined in Article 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Amnesty International reported 658 cases of illegal ‘hot deportations’ in 2018 alone, while Spain has already been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in October 2017 for violating the rights of two Sub-Saharans by deporting them to Morocco, without respecting international standards.
Melilla – children demonstrating for the right to go to school
Every Thursday, children are demonstrating in Melilla for their right to be educated. Around 200 minors are currently denied enrollment on the programmes starting in September. They are not considered eligible or don’t possess the requisite papers, although many of them were in fact born in Melilla. The association Prodein has advocated for years for their right to be educated. They recently launched a campaign collecting signatures to pressure the Spanish Education Ministry to allow the kids’ admission in the schools. You find the link to the campaign here.
Collective jump at the Melilla fence – 50 boza!
On 19th of July, some 200 people tried to jump the high security fences at the border to Melilla. 50 of them managed to reach Spanish territory and to run to the reception center (CETI). News agencies once again do not report about the enormous violence that would have been deployed to prevent them from achieving this result, but instead of referring to the violence of the border guards on both Moroccan and Spanish sides as they ‘manage migration’, they refer to hooks on the people’s shoes as weapons (that are tools that enable to climb the fence quicker) and the throwing of stones at the Guardia Civil and police (stones which are often thrown by the Moroccan forces in order to make the people on the fences fall). The collective jump was the biggest since October 2018, when 209 travellers managed to enter Melilla via the same northern part of the fence. 55 of them have since been returned under the 1992 bilateral readmission agreement between Morocco and Spain. The president of the neo fascist party Vox, Santiago Abascal, demanded the immediate deportation of the 50 travellers of the recent successful jump. Interior Minister Grande Marlaska expressed on twitter his ‘solidarity’ with the officers that were injured during the operation.
By jet ski to Ceuta
In rising numbers during summer, jet skis are used to enter Ceuta from the Moroccan side: On 23rd of July, the Spanish Guardia Civil reported that two drivers, who eventually returned to Morocco without being caught, dropped of 3 people at Juan XIII beach in Ceuta. On 26th, 2 people were detected in the water by the Guardia Civil who had also been dropped of by jet-skis. On 30th of July, 5 travellers managed to reach Ceuta via jet-ski.
People that are taken by jet-ski drivers are usually thrown in the water, so that the drivers can quickly escape the police quickly. This is a dangerous practice as the area is very rocky. People are often people wounded. According to the news agency ‘Faro del Ceuta’ several people lost their lives during those attempts. The price for this risky escape route is about €600.
Caravana Abriendo Fronteras
On 16th of July, The ‘Caravana Abriendo Fronteras – Fronteras Sur’ reached Ceuta and hence the most southern Spanish and European border. The “Caravan Opening Borders” is a network that was born in 2016 with the caravan to Greece, and is made up of different organizations and collectives from the Spanish state that demand social rights and the freedom of movement for all people.
The caravan was comprised of more than 300 activists in Ceuta, among them Alarm Phone members. It moved from the Port to Tarajal, the border zone with Morocco, with the aims, among others, to commemorate the victims of this very lethal border, to make visible the causes of migration, to demand the right to migrate from a feminist point of view, to demand the cessation of the policies of border externalisation and compliance with the international right to asylum.
The Algerian-Moroccan border – demonstration for open borders!
Around 250-300 people assembled on 22nd of July at the border zone of Algeria and Morocco between Marsa ben Mhidi on the Algerian side and Saidia on the Moroccan side of the border, among them our local Alarm Phone team from Oujda. The border, which is made up of fences and a dig that is supposed to prevent travellers from crossing into Morocco, has been closed since 1994.They demanded the reopening of the border, freedom of movement and the dismantling of the death trap which is this border.
This was not the first demonstration of its kind – local activists on both sides continuously remind the authorities that they want the border to reopen in order to reunite families who are separated by the closure and to enhance the local economy. They also emphasize that the many people who have to enter Morocco illegally do so via the ‘mafia’. They suffer greatly, paying high prices, being in risk of ́captivity and extortion and sometimes losing their lives in the attempt to overcome the ditch and the fences.
 Boza: successful arrival in Europe
 Last data available was from 30th of June. https://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/mediterranean/location/5226
 CEAR: Comisión Española de Ayuda al Refugiado; Spanish Commission for Refugee Aid
 SER: Sociedad Española de Radiodifusión; Spanish Broadcasting Society
 The first to coin the term “necropolitics” was the Cameroonian thinker Achille Mbembe: https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/english/currentstudents/postgraduate/masters/modules/postcol_theory/mbembe_22necropolitics22.pdf
 The Justice and Development Party, PJD is a Moroccan political party of the right, with Islamist ideology. Officially, it defines itself as a national political party whose aim is to contribute to the construction of a modern democratic Morocco within the framework of a constitutional monarchy.
 The Party of Progress and Socialism (PPS), the former Party of Liberation and Socialism (banned in 1969) is a Moroccan political party of socialist ideology
 The National Rally of the Independents (RNI) is a moroccan political party of the center, more or less in line with the king and his government.
 In the sub saharan transit community, the term ‘clochards’ is used for criminal individuals, often gathered in groups.
 Centro de Estancia Temporal de Inmigrantes; Center for Temporary Stay of Immigrants