Moroccan migrants risk it all to reach mainland Europe

MELILLA: In the Spanish enclave of Melilla in northern Morocco, 19-year-old Issam crouches near the port after hopping over a fence across one of the only land borders bridging Europe and Africa.
He is one of thousands of would-be migrants in the kingdom, dubbed “harraga” in Arabic, referring to those prepared to risk it all to reach mainland Europe.
“Everyone wants to move,” says the young man from the city of Fez, his hood pulled up and his trousers smeared in engine grease.
Fleeing “misery” at home, he says he is looking for a ticket to “Europe”. But his journey is not over yet. To cross the Mediterranean, he will have to cling to the chassis of a truck boarding a boat, or to the mooring lines of a ferry leaving for Spain.
Further back from the coast in Melilla’s highlands, 23-year-old Hamid stares out across the harbour, closely eyeing its criss-crossing vessels.
He left his hometown of central Meknes where he earned just over 5.50 euros ($6.50) a day laying tiles.
“You can’t live in dignity with that,” says Hamid, who has never learnt to read or write.
“I know fathers who have families who want to leave — people are desperate,” he adds.
South of Melilla in the Moroccan coastal town of Nador, groups of young men gather on sidewalks, killing time watching busses and trucks en route to the autonomous Spanish city.
“Since the beginning of the year, the number of Moroccans like them looking to migrate has exploded in Nador,” a Melilla resident tells AFP.
The number of Moroccans daring to reach Europe by sea has “increased considerably in recent months”, says Aziz Kattouf, head of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights.
According to Kattouf, leaving has become “easier” and is done “often with out an intermediary… (the migrants) pitching in to buy a boat motor in front of everyone”.
A lack of official data means the actual number of Moroccans making dangerous and sometimes deadly bids to reach Europe is unknown.
Since early 2018, Spain has logged more than 38,000 arrivals, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
For their part, Moroccan authorities say that since January they have prevented 54,000 attempts to reach Europe. According to figures from the government spokesman, these included 7,100 Moroccans up to the end of August. — AFP