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MSF in Morocco, 2006
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In October 2005, approximately 3000 sub-Saharan immigrants were rounded up from the coastal Spanish villes autonome of Ceuta and Melilla, and the cities of Rabat and Casablanca. They were put in buses by Moroccan police forces and driven to the Sahara region of the country, near borders with Mauritania and Algeria. Here more than 1000 people were dumped in the desert without any food, water, or access to healthcare.
MSF immediately intervened, providing emergency medical care, distributing food, water and blankets and denouncing this inhumane treatment. Over 100 people were treated for wounds and bruises, some caused by failed attempts to jump over fences into the Spanish territories before being expelled to the desert. Many other contusions were caused by rubber bullets and beatings, claimed by victims to have resulted from violent force used by Spanish and Moroccan authorities.
In total, more than 4000 people, some asylum seekers, were involved in a massive expulsion. Eventually more than 3500 persons were repatriated to Mali and Senegal, whilst others were relocated or dispersed on their own.
These were some of the thousands of illegal immigrants that arrive in Morocco every year, en route to Spain and the European Union. Increasingly tight border controls find many of these people stuck in an inhospitable situation with difficulties accessing food, water or healthcare.
Only weeks earlier, in September, MSF released a two-year report of medical data and testimonials from its healthcare projects in Tangier, Nador and Oujda. Violence and Immigration, a Report on Irregular Sub-Saharan Immigrants in Morocco, showed an alarming 25 per cent of medical consultations between April 2003 and May 2005 were for violence-related injuries, 62 per cent of the most severe cases claimed to have been inflicted by Moroccan and Spanish security forces.
MSF has worked with the sub-Saharan immigrant population in Morocco since 2003, providing medical care to immigrants with the support of the Moroccan health facilities. Vaccinations, ante-natal care and family planning are necessary for this vulnerable population and MSF runs mobile clinics and monitors the community for disease outbreaks. MSF provided 4,245 medical consultations in the past year, caring for approximately 2500 people in Tangier, Nador and Oujda. MSF also provides shelter, blankets and relief materials to improve hygiene and help immigrants attain minimum standards of living.
In early 2006, following continuous pressure from security forces and the deaths of 15 people, the majority of immigrants in the north of the country moved to urban areas, whilst a few hundred remained in bad conditions in the forests. MSF continues to provide assistance to the forest dwellers through mobile clinics.
The Spanish government has now raised the height of border fences separating Spain from Morocco in Ceuta and Melilla, resulting in fewer concentrations of immigrants in these areas and fewer MSF interventions. However, MSF continues to advocate for more humane treatment of sub-Saharan immigrants based on these interventions, and monitors the health situation of potentially vulnerable populations in the Moroccan Sahara region as well as Algeria and north Mauritania — the departure point for immigrants heading to the Canary Islands, and an area to which few international organizations have access.
MSF has worked in Morocco since 1997.