Migrant workers and asylum seekers in Morocco have faced a number of increasing hardships since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, including as a result of their lost access to work during lockdowns. Large numbers of migrants, particularly those who are undocumented, also lack any form of assistance or support in the country. In April 2020, a coalition of human rights groups issued a joint statement urging the country’s authorities to: provide assistance to the most vulnerable non-nationals, particularly those living in unsanitary accommodation or in makeshift camps; guarantee access to healthcare for those with chronic illnesses; ensure the automatic extension of residence permits to prevent non-nationals from finding themselves in an irregular situation; and ensure that all official information is translated into English and French so that all persons can access and understand the self-protection measures.
While authorities did not implement all of these recommendations, a source in Morocco informed the Global Detention Project that as per instructions from the king, “health police was made inclusive. Also new social housing was opened for the most vulnerable, especially children, … [and] great assistance work was provided by civil society associations in different locations, with an inclusive approach as well. Some of them focused on migrants, refugees, and asylum seeker assistance, in coordination with the Interior Ministry. UNHCR also provided cash assistance to all refugees and most vulnerable [asylum seekers] during this period.”
Significant numbers of migrants have faced arrest or detention in Morocco during the pandemic – often purportedly to ensure that they are tested for the virus. Since the first case was confirmed in the country in March 2020, numerous incidents have been reported in which migrants have been rounded up and detained. On one occasion, approximately 50 sub-Saharan migrants were arrested – reportedly based purely on their skin colour – in Laâyoune on 21 June 2020 and detained in a local school for seven days. During their detention, the group had no access to running water, clean clothes or sufficient food; no information on when they would be released; and no ability to leave the building for fresh air. Those who tested positive were placed in quarantine in a nearby hotel.
Testimonies collected by the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH) confirm that since the start of the pandemic, similar incidents have occurred across the country, with migrants detained in ad-hoc facilities such as schools, youth centres, and hotels for periods ranging from a few days to several months. Previously in May, some 80 migrants held in Laâyoune for more than two months had launched a hunger strike to demand an end to their detention. According to the National Human Rights Council (CNDH), the ad-hoc facility was also the scene of a violent confrontation between migrants and security forces, when detainees attempted to leave the facility.
Observers have also reported numerous instances in which non-nationals – principally black migrants and asylum seekers – have been arrested and detained, before being forcefully relocated out of urban areas into remote rural provinces. In late April 2021, a group of migrants – some of whom allegedly possessed residence documents – were arrested in Rabat, detained in a police station, and abandoned in Khourigba and Beni-Mellal (towns south-east of Rabat). Many others have reportedly been forced to the south of the country, having been arrested and detained in targeted raids in northern cities and transported south in overcrowded buses.
There appears to be little or no information available regarding steps that authorities may have taken to protect immigration detainees against the spread of the virus. In its list of issues prior to Morocco’s submission of its second periodic report (February 2021), the UN Committee on Migrant Workers (CMW) requested that Morocco describe the efforts taken to prevent infections in detention facilities and to provide health care to those requiring it.
- Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH), “Les Mesures de Confinement Prises par les Autorités Marocaines pour faire face à l’Épidémie de COVID-19 Sont Essentielles,” 1 April 2020, http://www.amdh.org.ma/contents/display/314
- UN Network on Detention, “COVID-19 and Immigration Detention: What Can Governments and Other Stakeholders Do?” Working Group on Alternatives to Detention, 2020, https://migrationnetwork.un.org/sites/default/files/docs/un_network_on_migration_wg_atd_policy_brief_covid-19_and_immigration_detention_0.pdf
- InfoMigrants, “Coronavirus: Au Maroc, des Dizaines de Migrants sub-sahariens arrêtés et confinés de force,” 29 June 2020, https://www.infomigrants.net/fr/post/25682/coronavirus-au-maroc-des-dizaines-de-migrants-sub-sahariens-arretes-et-confines-de-force
- Global Detention Project and Moroccan Association for Human Rights, “Joint Submission to the UN Committee on Migrant Workers: Morocco,” 17 September 2020, https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/joint-submission-to-the-committee-on-migrant-workers-morocco#_ftn18
- S. Lemaizi, “Twitter Update,” 22 May 2020, https://twitter.com/LemaizO/status/1263836068098564096
- National Human Rights Council (CNDH), “Rapport annuel sur l’état des droits de l’homme au maroc au titre de l’année 2020 intitulé : Covid-19 : Situation exceptionnelle et nouvel exercice des droits de l’homme,” 2020, https://www.cndh.org.ma/fr/rapports-annuels/rapport-annuel-sur-letat-des-droits-de-lhomme-au-maroc-au-titre-de-lannee-2020
- Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH) (Section Nador), “Facebook Update,” 29 April 2021, https://www.facebook.com/AmdhNador/photos/a.1693125780899690/2914114118800844/
- Yabiladi, “Rabat: Rassemblement ce vendredi contre les refoulements des migrants vers le sud,” 19 February 2021, https://www.yabiladi.com/articles/details/106121/rabat-rassemblement-vendredi-contre-refoulements.html?fbclid=IwAR0-S19xP0ytpwnIyqHhYcn_T2wdeFSTsj2TrrwdHwrNEQTOMHewHAYWyPs
- UN Committee on Migrant Workers (CMW), “List of Issues Prior to Submission of the Second Periodic Report of Morocco,” CMW/C/MAW/QPR/2, 23 February 2021, https://bit.ly/3nTOEy6
- Migrants Sitting Inside a Classroom in Laâyoune, (DR, Infomigrants, “Coronavirus: au Maroc, des dizaines de migrants sub-sahariens arrêtés et confinés de force,” 29 June 2020, infomigrants.net/fr/post/25682/coronavirus-au-maroc-des-dizaines-de-migrants-sub-sahariens-arretes-et-confines-de-force)