March 25, 2010

MSF Calls on Moroccan Government, EU, to Address Needs of Sexual Violence Victims

Rabat/Barcelona/New York--March 25, 2010 --Sub-Saharan migrant women are enduring various forms of sexual violence in their countries of origin and while en route to Europe, with many forced to flee their homes because of violent conflict or to escape forced marriages or domestic violence.

Rabat/Barcelona/New York--March 25, 2010—Sub-Saharan migrant women are enduring various forms of sexual violence in their countries of origin and while en route to Europe, with many forced to flee their homes because of violent conflict or to escape forced marriages or domestic violence, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.

Women face further abuse and sexual violence on their journey northward. In Morocco they are frequently subjected to sexual exploitation in the form of prostitution. Few of them dare to speak out about what they have suffered. MSF is concerned that information gathered by its medical teams in Morocco represents only a small fraction of a large-scale sexual violence problem that has, to date, gone unaddressed by Moroccan authorities and European Union countries.

Between May 2009 and January 2010, one out of three women treated by MSF in Rabat and Casablanca admitted to having been subjected to one or more sexual attacks, either in their country of origin, on their journey, and/or in Morocco. MSF gathered testimonies from 63 patients, of which over 21 percent were minors. These testimonies illustrate the extreme vulnerability of these women throughout their journey.

MSF background paper:
Sexual Violence and Migration: The hidden reality of Sub-Saharan women trapped in Morocco en route to Europe

“The Moroccan Government needs to improve the care provided to Sub-Saharan migrants who are victims of sexual violence in their territory,” said Alfonso Verdú, head of MSF operations in Morocco. “European Union countries need to be aware of the serious consequences their increasingly restrictive migration and asylum policies have on the health and safety of migrants, particularly the most vulnerable: women and young girls.”

In Morocco, MSF teams treat people such as O.A., a 26-year-old Congolese woman who fled the conflict in her country after being raped by a group of men. Since she had no passport, a truck driver offered to smuggle her from Mauritania into Morocco under the seat of his truck. On the way, the truck stopped in the middle of the desert.

“The driver and his friend started to argue and then the driver got closer to me and hit me,” recounted O.A. “When I fell down, he squeezed my breasts and insulted me. Then the friend of the driver raped me. I screamed but no one could hear me, we were in the desert. When they finished, they fled.” She managed to reach Morocco with the help of another driver.

The border between Maghnia, in Algeria, and Oujda, in Morocco, constitutes a particularly dangerous part of the journey. Of the 63 women interviewed by MSF, 59 percent reported being sexually assaulted there. Although the border with Algeria remains officially closed, the Moroccan security forces still expel migrants to that area. Expulsions tend to take place at night, increasing the likelihood of attacks.

T.D., a 19-year old woman, was arrested by the police when she was going to the market in Oujda and transferred to the police station where there were another 28 Sub-Saharan migrants. The entire group was deported and returned to the border in the middle of the desert that very evening. While she was walking with three men and three women, a group of Moroccan bandits attacked them. “The women were all raped by three bandits, one after the other,” she said.

Due to restrictive European Union migration and asylum policies, the number of migrants blocked in Morocco and unable to reach Europe or return to their countries of origin has grown. These migrants not only live in precarious conditions, but feel increasingly hopeless and worried. Their irregular status increases their vulnerability, with women particularly affected. Excluding the border region of between Maghnia and Oujda, one third of the migrants interviewed by MSF had experienced sexual abuse on Moroccan soil.

“We cannot ignore the reality these women have to face when they are left to fend for themselves with an increasing feeling of frustration and despair,” said Verdú. “A comprehensive response is needed which includes social, medical, psychological, and legal support.”

MSF began working with Sub-Saharan migrants in Morocco since 2000. Since then, the organization has carried out several healthcare projects and sought to improve living conditions in Tangier, Casablanca, Rabat, and Oujda.

Advocacy activities to complement medical action include lobbying authorities and other actors to assume responsibility for protection and assistance of migrants. MSF emphasizes the obligation to provide access to healthcare to Sub-Saharan migrants and ensure respect for their dignity. In a report published in 2005, MSF documented violence and abuse perpetrated against migrants by Moroccan and Spanish security forces. In 2008, MSF submitted a follow-up report to Spanish and Moroccan authorities.

Between 2003 and 2009, MSF carried out 27,431 consultations, of which 4,482 were for lesions and traumas (16.3 percent). Moreover, more than 7,500 people were accompanied and referred to Moroccan health facilities in close collaboration with the country’s Ministry of Health.