As of 28 April 2020, Morocco has registered 4,120 Covid-19 cases and 162 deaths related to the disease. The country has adopted several measures to combat the pandemic including compulsory quarantine from 20 March, the grounding of all flights, school and university closures, and reducing public transportation. To address urgent medical needs and to mitigate the economic impact of the crisis, the country is creating an emergency fund, raising 32.7 billion Moroccan Dirhams ($US 3.2 billion).
People working in the informal sector, which includes a substantial population of migrants, have been particularly vulnerable during the crisis. The Ministry of Finance has announced that it will begin to make cash transfers to vulnerable citizens, especially those who have lost their jobs (as of 1 April, more than 700,000 workers have lost their jobs). However, two-thirds of the work-force are not covered by a pension plan, almost half of the working population does not benefit from medical coverage, and there is no social care system for many vulnerable groups, including undocumented laborers and asylum seekers.
A critical country on the western Mediterranean migration route, Morocco has long been the focus of European efforts to halt the movement of migrants and asylum seekers. However, Morocco’s immigration detention system has traditionally been composed of police stations and other informal sites, lacking a dedicated immigration detention estate. Thus, Covid-19 measures implemented in prisons and other criminal justice installations can have an important impact on the safety and health of migrants.
Prisoners in some locales appear to have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. For example, on 23 April 2020, all 309 prisoners at the Ouarzazate prison were tested for infection and 133 tested positive. These prisoners were reportedly isolated and placed in a different sections to others.
Previously, on 5 April 2020, Morocco’s king pardoned 5,654 prisoners and ordered their release in order to avoid the spread of Covid-19 within the country’s prisons. The Justice Ministry stated that detainees who would be freed were to be selected based on their age, health, good conduct, and length of detention.
According to UNHCR, it expects more than 12,000 people to register as asylum seekers in Morocco during 2020. In 2018, there were nearly 8,000 persons of concern in the country. More than 50 percent of refugees in the country are from Syria. While Moroccan law provides for protection and essential services for refugees, UNHCR reports that “gaps in accessing documentation and employment persist, as well as gaps in accessing secondary and tertiary health care, due to refugees’ exclusion from the medical insurance scheme available for impoverished nationals.”
- WorldoMeter, “Covid-19 Coronavirus Pandemic,” 28 April 2020, https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/
- 15-38 Mediterranée, “Covid-19: Le Maroc se Bat pour Minimiser les Dégats,” 1 April 2020, https://www.1538mediterranee.com/2020/04/01/le-maroc-se-bat-pour-minimiser-les-degats/
- Middle East Eye, “Coronavirus: Morocco’s King Pardons 5,654 Prisoners to Avoid Contagion,” 5 April 2020, www.middleeasteye.net/news/coronavirus-moroccos-king-mohammed-vi-pardons-5654-prisoners-avoid-contagion
- Dr. M. Masbah, “Can Morocco Effectively Handle the Covid-19 Crisis?” Chatham House, 6 April 2020, https://www.chathamhouse.org/expert/comment/can-morocco-effectively-handle-covid-19-crisis-1#
- Two Police Officers Riding Bikes in Front of Shut Stores, (J. Morchidi, Getty Images, Dr. M. Masbah, “Can Morocco Effectively Handle the Covid-19 Crisis?” Chatham House, 6 April 2020, https://www.chathamhouse.org/expert/comment/can-morocco-effectively-handle-covid-19-crisis-1#)