Empowerment of a grassroots migrant organisation in Morocco – MRCI Ireland meets ODT Immigrés in Morocco

By Pablo Rojas Coppari,  
Strategic Advocacy Officer MRCI Ireland.

Recent news reported on efforts of Spanish and Moroccan authorities to reinforce border security and raised the question of responsibility for migrants who are supposedly transient in Morocco and aim to go to Europe. The severity of the situation cannot be underestimated as reports have given evidence for shocking human rights violations. It is time that policymakers take action. However, effective change can only occur through empowerment of migrants themselves at the grassroots level.

This past December 18th 2012, I participated in the commemorations of the International Migrants Day in Rabat, Morocco. This was an opportunity to meet some local migrant organisations that have been working with PICUM under the framework of the Beyond Irregularity Project.

As part of an array of activities, the Organisation Démocratique du Travail (ODT) – a Moroccan Trade Union – together with the Conseil National des Droits de l’Homme (CNDH) organised a symposium entitled: “Migrants and the new Moroccan Constitution” to discuss fundamental rights for migrants and their families under the new legal framework[1].

Some of the problems undocumented migrant workers face in Morocco are the same as those experienced in Ireland:  workplace exploitation, difficulty in regularising legal status, ethnic profiling, etc. and some were more extreme such as refoulement to the Algerian border, difficulty accessing health care and education for children, etc.We have been campaigning to achieve regularisation of undocumented migrants in Ireland at the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI). The event allowed me to meet a group of members of ODT Immigrés– the local migrant-led wing of the aforementioned trade union to share our experience with a campaign which aimed at achieving an Earned Regularisation for undocumented migrants in Ireland and to draw parallels with their activities.

They told me about how they started their group, moved by the difficulties in asserting their fundamental rights due to their lack of legal status and how those who did try were faced with deportation. Provisions contained in the Law 02/03, which regulates the entry and stay of foreign nationals in the Moroccan territory, have been constantly violated –as it is the case, for instance, of expulsions of pregnant women and children-, beyond the fact that this law adopts a purely security approach to the issue of irregular migration.

They structured their activities around the aim of obtaining regularisation and highlighting the issue of migration to Morocco as opposed to transiting through Morocco. In their eyes, the public has been fairly supportive of their actions and the coverage they have received from media was quite broad. In addition, some government authorities have started discussing the issue.

This is a significant step forward in acknowledging that migrants in Morocco are there to stay and settle down and not simply in transit towards a European destination – an idea that is often put forward by authorities and some NGO actors. Obviously there will be a part of the migrant community in Morocco that sees itself as transient and that wishes to move forward to a further destination. There will also be a large section of government bodies that would like to see the migrant community as a transient and not feel obliged to afford them basic human rights they should be entitled to – but I believe there is where the strength of ODT Immigres comes to play. They are a group with the power to highlight that giving rights to undocumented migrants in Morocco does not harm other groups, instead it takes them out of the shadows, and avoids that a vulnerable group becomes victim of further violence and exploitation.

MRCI’s methodology of community work and our focus on direct participation and leadership development resonated a lot with the ODT group as they are a grassroots organisation created by undocumented migrants. Our usage of different communication tools – database, text messaging, social media, and internet, was of particular interest to them, as they recognised they could benefit from a more organised and affordable strategy to communicate and disseminate information. We also discussed the power of personal stories for advocacy– for instance, the difficulties faced by undocumented children, some of them with a Moroccan parent, in terms of birth registration and access to education . Undocumented Migrants in Morocco see regularization through work as a pathway out of irregularity. Bodies like the CNDH and the main structure of ODT are supportive of this option as a pragmatic solution to their irregular status.

Building alliances was hard – but necessary – and their group has made a significant step by partnering with ODT (the trade union) and also by participating in the joint event organised by the CNDH. It seems that overcoming the riffs among the civil society in Morocco is essential to establish the credibility of their ask. – ODT Immigres stroke me as a solidified group, one that has a clear solution to the problem. I think they could benefit from resources and assistance on how to build alliance within the government sector, but as well in the national and international civil society world. Also, their personal stories are very strong and charismatic, and they need to find a way to communicate that to the wider public, by using public actions, media and new technologies.

For more information on PICUM’s project Beyond Irregularity which analyses recent trends regarding irregular migration between Sub-Saharan Africa and Europe and works towards supporting civil society and State’s actors to protect the rights of all migrants , click here.

[1] The New Moroccan Constitution was promulgated on 1 July 2011 and in article 30 recognizes that “foreigners enjoy the same fundamental rights as Moroccan citizens in conformity with the law ». Furthermore, the Constitution reiterates Morocco’s commitment to all existing international and national human rights instruments, principles and standards. However, limitation in the application of the provisions contained in international law is due of the lack of harmonization between national legislation and international conventions ratified by Morocco. For further information please refer to the final report resulted from the PICUM seminar “Irregular migrants in Morocco: between legal entitlements and justice” held in Rabat on 4 July 2012.

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