In the forest of migrants

In the forest of migrants

Tangiers (Morocco) An expanse of white and red houses. Then the ocean. A distance of just a few kilometers from Spain and the desire to live a better life. So, with the hope of being able to leave and to put their feet on European soil, thousands of sub-Saharan migrants wait along the opposite side of the strait, in Africa. The hide in makeshift houses along the periphery of Tangiers or in the forests that surround the Moroccan city. In front of them lies the sea and Europe.

“We want to go to Spain, it is our dream. Only when we are there will be free to do things that are not allowed here”, a group of young people explain situated in the forests outside of Tangiers, the last African stop on the migration path direct to Europe. They have constructed a small campsite made of refuse where they live, waiting for the right moment to find a way across to the old continent. However the security forces do not give them the opportunity to settle, conducting raids every day in the forests south of the city. “The agents slaughter us and treat us like animals. The police come constantly, arresting the men, stealing our things and burning everything they find”, explains some boys from the Ivory Coast showing what remained from one of their camps. And so the migrants day after day move further within the forest to reconstruct their camps.

Inside the forest

Where the houses of the popular neighborhood of Mesnana end, there begins a steep part which lead into the center of the forest. “We have to wait hidden here, while the police carry out their patrols”, Letitia orders us to take shelter behind a tree with her one year old baby in her arms. A few minutes later, a green light blinks with a message on his cell phone. It is only in that moment that we can start walking towards the campsite again.

“There are 30 people living here – says a child indicating to the small area between the trees where a few covers were set up -. The women slept behind the news hut with the babies, while the men kepts guard outside. All around us there are other campsites with many people, many of them only minors”.

A forest of migrants living hidden and waiting for the best moment to leave

“In Morocco we don’t have no rights, we can’t work or have a home. The authorities will not give us the necessary documents and take away what little things we have. We are forced to live like this, between the trees”, agrily explains Florence, a young Ivorian who has been living in the forest for 9 months.

Hundreds found shelter in the woods after the police began to clear out the entire neighborhood if Tangier. Starting from last summer, in fact, the police began to make visits to rented rooms which sub-Saharans occupied in the city. “We are trying to hide here to avoid being put under arrest and deported. A few days ago, the police arrived, and I lost my husband as he was sent back to our country”, says a girl in her early 20s. Now the colonies to the south of Tangiers have become her refuge. And just like her there are many, who every day, look across that length of sea that separates Africa from Europe.

Conflict with Spain

“We have organised ourselves many times in order to try and reach Spain. We have put some money aside and have tried to embark. But still we are here: the authorities have stopped us, they have destroyed our boat beaten the people. Then they sent the men to the south of the country, to Tiznit”, a young person explains angrily who admits to having tried three times to cross the Gibraltar strait. They are ready, any occasion might be the right one to reach the European coast. Many of their friends have made it across and they look forward to it too.

The new strict policies of the Moroccan government however has made the journey more complicated. The security forces have succeeded in intercepting and blocking the majority of makeshift vessels attempting the crossing. But migrants do not want to stay in the North African country, and so continue to enter the sea. They are willing to do anything to touch European soil. “We negotiated with the Moroccan military who control access to the sea. We paid them to get us into Spain”, complains Alfava, a minor from Guinea who has been living in the woods for a year. “They took all of our money and just sent us back. The security forces only let the young Moroccans pass, for us blacks it is impossible to cross. But we know how to wait for the right moment”.