Hunger, lice, filth: Moroccan camp shows migrant challenges
As Morocco prepares to host the signing of a landmark global migration agreement, hundreds of migrants are languishing in a Casablanca camp rife with hunger, misery, lice and filth.
These sub-Saharan Africans who dream of going to Europe are a symbol of the problems world dignitaries are trying to address with the UN's first migration compact, being finalised at a conference in Marrakech on Monday and Tuesday.
Rising numbers of migrants live in the makeshift camp that sprung up on a soccer field near a busy Casablanca bus station, where they are bedded down under tents or shacks built from plastic and wood.
Scant food, a lack of heat and no sanitation are the main worries at the Oulad Ziane camp, as lice and respiratory infections are becoming endemic.
Morocco embodies multiple dilemmas facing the countries meeting in Marrakech: It's a major source of Europe's migrants but is also a transit country as well as a migrant host for other Africans fleeing poverty and persecution.
The 34-page UN Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration is to be formally approved in Marrakech, Morocco, today and tomorrow. But the United States and several European countries have said they won't sign on.
The Oulad Ziane camp houses African migrants seeking to reach Europe via the western Mediterranean route to Spain after crackdowns by Italy and Malta have slowed smuggling traffic in the eastern Mediterranean. Many of the migrants have already tried the journey north to Morocco's border with Spain, only to be pushed away by Moroccan police, sometimes violently.
In the meantime they look for work in Casablanca, hoping to earn enough to pay smugglers to try once again.
New arrivals at the Casablanca camp came after clashing violently with Moroccan border agents as they tried to scale the fence separating Morocco from Spain's North African enclave of Ceuta.
"I am only here to recover. I come and go," said 19-year-old Guinean Ibrahim Bah, who arrived days ago with open wounds on his wrists, arms and back.
"Moroccan forces caught us and beat us. They broke one of my friend's arms, handcuffed us and crammed us on a bus. This time they dropped us in Casablanca but usually they take us far to the south," he said.
Government officials didn't respond to requests for comment on inhumane treatment of migrants or the Casablanca camp, but Morocco's government describes the country's migration policy as "exemplary". That mostly refers to reforms launched in 2014, largely funded by the EU, to encourage migrants to stay in Morocco.