Sunday, October 30, 2005

Documentary review: filming Morocco’s emigration hunger

I found this documentary interesting. It looks at illegal immigration from a different perspective. Illegal immigration is usually reduced to people seeking better economical conditions in Europe, or rings of human trafficking thriving on the misery of poor populations. Through the testimony of Abdelfattah, we discover a deeper reality, that has more to do with a generation that has lost hope in its leaders' promises for change, and that hopes for a better life.

I See The Stars At Noon: filming Morocco’s emigration hunger

Saeed Taji Farouky
28 - 10 - 2005

Saeed Taji Farouky’s documentary about a Moroccan desperately seeking a new life in Spain took a surprising twist as his friendship with Abdelfattah deepened – one that led him to the heart of the reasons for “secret emigration”.

There is a saying in Arabic that translates as “I see the stars at noon”. We use it when everything in life is turned upside-down, when things are not as they should be. I first heard it in the tiny Moroccan village of Sebt Jahjouh, travelling with a man named Abdelfattah, a man whose world was upside-down, a man for whom things were definitely not as they should have been.

Abdelfattah was one of Morocco’s clandestines, the people who cross illegally into Europe, piling on to precarious rafts or stowing away on ships hoping not to drown in the unpredictable waters of the Straits of Gibraltar. They are the men who sit on the balcony overlooking the port of Tangiers and watch the lights of Spain flicker only fourteen kilometres away. They are also the men who end up at the bottom of the Mediterranean, or homeless in Spain, or begging on the streets of Europe when things do not go as planned.

After living and working in Morocco for a year, I decided to make a documentary film about the clandestines, and the journey they make – what the Moroccans call hijra siriyyah (secret emigration). I followed Abdelfattah for three weeks, filming everything he went through as he travelled the country looking for contacts and smugglers and raising money to pay his way on to a boat. Through the documentary, I See The Stars At Noon, I wanted to understand what would make someone risk his life for an utterly uncertain future in Europe, and what he expected to find there.

That someone should want to leave Morocco is not surprising. It is, despite being a fashionable destination, an extremely poor north African country, and one ruled by an absolute (albeit benign) monarch. What is surprising is that someone like Abdelfattah would want so desperately to leave. He was not, after all, starving. His family owned a modest house, he was trained as a tailor and had experience as a butcher. What he did not have, however, was hope.

Over the course of filming, I came to understand that there was something other than simple greed driving Abdelfattah to reach Europe. He was, of course, interested in what he believed Europe could offer him, but he was motivated as much by a hatred of Morocco as an appreciation for Europe. Like many Moroccans, and in fact many Arabs of this generation, Abdelfattah seemed to love and hate his country in equal measures. He loved the fact that he came from such a rich and proud culture, but hated the fact that in recent years, that culture had spiralled uncontrollably into poverty and dictatorship.

Disillusioned Moroccans refer to their country as al-Mekhrib (the ruined), a play on al-Meghrib, the Arabic name for Morocco. The country, and particularly the country’s new king Mohammad VI, has promised them so much, but with stubbornly low wages, high unemployment and few opportunities for economic empowerment, many have given up on it. Alone, this combination of shame and hopelessness is a perfect recipe for a generation of very pissed-off people, but Moroccans have to contend with something else even more influential: bitterness.

Moroccans in recent years have come to resent the hoards of rich European tourists bounding around like they own the place, looking for the “exotic-lite” experience while avoiding any real, ordinary Moroccan culture. They resent it even more because much of their economy relies on tourism. They are, understandably, fed up with seeing so much money flying around, and at the same time, knowing that it will probably never reach them.

This is not an unusual situation in any industry, but tourism is unique in that it requires the porter or tour-guide or bus-driver to be as polite, subservient and accommodating as possible to the very people he resents. The situation in Morocco is made even more complex by the fact that most of their tourists are from France – the same country that violently occupied and humiliated them until 1956 – and that colonial past is played out psychologically over and over again. Abdelfattah saw tourism as a poisoned chalice, it has the promise of making a lot of money, but at a price that many like him were not willing to pay. You can see, from this perspective, why Abdelfattah once explained to me that Morocco’s colonisation was not, in fact, over – it has merely been transferred from the political to the economic and intellectual arena.

The hijra has become, for many, the only choice left and it is a national obsession. It has entered the cultural lexicon of Morocco, simmering just beneath the surface and ultimately coming to represent the nation’s loss of faith in itself. Visit any of the small villages in the centre of the country – those far from any agriculture or tourist money – and you will find that everyone knows someone who has crossed illegally into Europe. Abdelfattah explained that many of his friends from Agourai, near Fes, had made it to Europe, and every summer they would came back to visit, often with a car and extra money for their parents.

The Spanish complex

While you might think this situation would be a disaster for Spain, the controversial truth is that they actually do quite well out of it. If your cheap supermarket oranges or tomatoes are imported from Spain, the chances are high that they were picked by a clandestine. You would never know it, because this convenient arrangement rarely makes the news, but the agricultural economy of Spain, and much of southern Europe in general, relies on illegal immigrants.

The Spanish public occasionally hear about the clandestine when a dead African body washes up on their beaches, or when someone is found soaking and delirious stumbling through the streets of Tarifa, but otherwise they go on exporting their cheap produce and we go on buying it. In February 2005, Spain’s government offered amnesty to around 800,000 illegal immigrants working there, thousands of whom are employed in seasonal agricultural work. Though I would like to believe it was out of concern for their rights and working conditions, I suspect it had more to do with collecting income tax and, even more importantly, bolstering Spain’s agricultural-labour deficit.

The Spanish economy, then, is in the paradoxical position of both benefiting from and trying to deter illegal immigrants. Similarly, while Morocco’s official position is that they are doing everything they can to stop illegal immigration, their economy also benefits immensely from remittances from overseas workers. I suspect the Moroccan government also secretly appreciates that a porous border is a very easy way to get rid of the poorest and most desperate elements of society.

The point is that the issue of illegal immigration often has as much to do with politics as with economics, and it is the most vulnerable people – the migrants and illegal immigrants themselves – who are caught in the middle. The debate about how to deal with illegal immigration so often ignores this fact by concentrating on fortifying Europe’s borders and maintaining a respectable image rather than, as many NGOs have urged, redirecting that money and effort to development aid for African countries.

The film dissolves

This relationship of mutual exploitation that exists between Morocco and Spain is, I realised during the process of filming, oddly similar to the relationship between documentarian and subject, both in journalism and documentary film.

In my case, I needed Abdelfattah as an interesting and willing participant in the film, and he needed me both as emotional, and later, financial support. “I think you might be taking advantage of me,” he once said, adding: “If you pay me, then it benefits both of us.”

This was an overwhelming dilemma I faced in making I See The Stars At Noon, something that I had never anticipated, and something that the editor Gareth Keogh and I eventually chose not to ignore because it was so central to the experience of filming. Not only does it more accurately reflect the atmosphere of illegal immigration than an expose-style documentary would, but it raises an issue that few documentaries touch upon, that is, the relationship between the filmmaker and the subject. Abdelfattah and I often talked about what it was like for him to be followed constantly by a camera, how I could continue filming without influencing his decisions, and ultimately, about whether I would pay him or not.

I was, admittedly, naïve in my initial approach to the film, and all of this came as a surprise. I thought I could record Abdelfattah’s life while remaining entirely disassociated from him, but in the end, it turned out to be impossible simply because we are both humans who understand the value of money, opportunity and information. I found it impossible to be a neutral observer, to pretend that my presence had no influence on the events I was recording, and in the end, that tension became the central theme of the film. In other words, it was no longer a film about the journey of a hopeful illegal immigrant, it became a film about the process of me and my camera recording Abdelfattah’s experiences.

The film is in limbo, in much the same way that Abdelfattah was in limbo, and it is intended to fill in the gaps between daily news, tabloid journalism and reality as I saw it. The situation is far more complex than it is often presented as, and implicates our own demand for cheap labour as much as anything else. Abdelfattah was not looking to live on welfare or in government housing. He had no illusions that everything would be handed to him on a plate when he reached Europe. Instead he talked about the future in terms of opportunity, pointing out that he was willing to work as hard as any European if he was only given the chance. He believed that in Morocco, people like him who were honest, hardworking and intelligent had been abandoned in favour of corruption and nepotism, and he was ready, in return, to abandon Morocco. This is a motivation far more compelling than greed, and to ignore it is to misunderstand entirely the reasons behind and the consequences of illegal immigration.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Spaniards Disappointed with Government on Immigration

Many adults in Spain believe their federal administration has dealt improperly with recent problems related to immigration, according to a poll by Instituto Opina released by Cadena Ser. 50.5 per cent of respondents disapprove of the way the government approached the crisis of African immigrants.

Since late September, thousands of African immigrants have tried to cross the boundaries that separate the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla from Morocco. Close to 600 people made their way to Spanish territory, but at least 12 lost their lives in the process. The situation prompted the Spanish government to raise the existing barrier to more than six metres.

According to published reports, hundreds of African immigrants have been detained and/or deported by Moroccan authorities. 64.9 per cent of Spanish respondents think their government should put more pressure on Morocco to guarantee the humane treatment of migrants.

Earlier this month, European Union (EU) commissioner Franco Frattini said 20,000 Africans "are waiting in Algeria to begin their journey to Ceuta and Melilla" while "another 10,000 are already in Morocco."

In December 2004, the spanish government approved the regularization law. More than 690,000 foreign residents have filed their paperwork to remain in Spain legally.

Polling Data

Do you approve or disapprove of the way the government has dealt with the crisis of African immigrants?





Not sure


No reply


Do you think the Spanish government has put sufficient pressure on the Moroccan government to guarantee the humane treatment of migrants?





Not sure


No reply


Source: Instituto Opina / Cadena Ser
Methodology: Telephone interviews with 1,000 Spanish adults, conducted on Oct. 14, 2005. Margin of error is 3.1 per cent.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Lawyer tells Amnesty meeting tale of a Guantanamo detainee

His torturers in Morocco took a razor blade to Benyam Mohammed al-Habashi's genitals and told him to admit he had dined with top al-Qaeda officials, human rights attorney Clive Stafford Smith told about 300 people in Philadelphia yesterday.

But that and other abuses - some so heinous that Stafford Smith promised not to repeat them publicly - were not the worst of what happened to al-Habashi in Afghanistan, Stafford Smith said.

"He said none of the torture was as bad as being stuck in a dark room for 20 days and forced to listen to [rap artist] Eminem," said Stafford Smith, speaking at Amnesty International's 2005 Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference.

Today, al-Habashi, 27, remains among about 500 men detained at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay. He is one of 40 Stafford Smith is representing. Stafford Smith has seen formal charges against only five of them, he said.

Born in Ethiopia, al-Habashi moved to England when he was 16. Stafford Smith said his client went to Afghanistan to recover from a drug habit he developed in London and to see what life under Islamic law was like.

Returning to England just after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, al-Habashi was picked up at Karachi Airport in Pakistan and questioned by the FBI, who accused him of being a top al-Qaeda operative. Stafford Smith said al-Habashi couldn't speak Arabic.

Next, al-Habashi was flown to Morocco, where his torturers took a blade to his penis numerous times, and then to the Americans in Afghanistan, Stafford Smith said. Al-Habashi was flown to Guantanamo in 2004.

"The number of prisoners in Guantanamo who are innocent is shocking," he told the crowd.

Currently, some inmates are on a hunger strike to protest conditions and long confinement without trial. The government, in a release last week, said fewer than 40 of the inmates remained on the hunger strike. Stafford Smith put the number involved in the strike that began last month closer to 200.

"While you're sitting here eating lunch," Stafford Smith told the crowd. "Prisoners at Guantanamo are on a hunger strike to protest their captors' treatment of them."

In an interview after the event, Stafford Smith - legal director with Reprieve, a British group opposed to the death penalty - said he had had some success and that about 12 of his clients had been released. But, he said, their release has not come through a fair and speedy trial.

"The only way we get people out," he said, "is through the court of public opinion."

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Migrants made to cross Sahara army minefield

A pile of sardine tins stamped 'Maroc', discarded beside a desert track, mark the passing of African migrants abandoned in the wilderness by Moroccan security forces.

Zalik Zein, a soldier with the Saharan independence group Polisario, has been tasked with tracking down the migrants. He squats beside the tins and turns them over. 'The Africans came this way,' he says and points to a nearby fold in the ground. 'There are mines there.'

Rashid Boniface Tetty Wayo from Ghana spent four days wandering lost in the desert before he stumbled across a nomad encampment. He is one of 95 sub-Saharan Africans from Gambia, Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, Nigeria and Ghana who are being given shelter in an abandoned school building in Birlehlu in the disputed territory of Western Sahara. Birlehlu is controlled by the Polisario. 'The Moroccans are not Africans,' says 24-year-old Rashid. 'They call us black locusts.'

Rashid spent two years in Morocco, one of thousands of migrants who have massed in the country in the hope of reaching Spain, either by boat or by scaling the fences surrounding two tiny Spanish enclaves on the Mediterranean coast.

On the night of 6 October, Rashid and 500 illegal migrants attempted to rush the barbed-wire fences that protect the Melilla enclave. They got over the first fence but were spotted by Spanish border guards as they tried to climb the second. Six of his fellow Africans were killed in clashes with Moroccan security forces. Rashid says he was captured by Moroccan soldiers who slashed his pockets with knives and robbed him of his wallet and mobile phone. He was held in a police station for hours and then handcuffed to a fellow migrant and put in the back of a truck. They were driven for four days south across the desert to a Moroccan military encampment on the 'Berm', the 2,400km-long earthwork fortification dividing the Moroccan and Polisario zones of Western Sahara.

He says that a group of 15 were each given two bottles of water, four pieces of bread and a tin of sardines. They were then pointed to a narrow corridor through the minefields marked with piles of stones and told to walk straight, without stepping left or right, into the desert. After three days, they ran out of water. The area in which they were abandoned is a former battlefield littered with US-made unexploded cluster munitions and French and Spanish landmines. 'We just wanted to find work and send money home,' says Lamin Kamara, a 20-year-old Gambian who was five days in the desert.

In one corner of the Birlehlu school room hastily converted into a first aid post, two Bangladeshis, Arufsindar and Oronmindar, huddle beneath foil blankets, dehydrated and in shock. They have been wandering in the desert for more than eight days. They are being treated by doctors from the Spanish charity Médico El Mundo.

The Bangladeshis paid a people-trafficker in Dakha several thousand dollars each to smuggle them to Europe, but their dream of riches ended in Morocco. They claim they were whipped with belts by soldiers before being abandoned in the desert.

Soon Arufsindar and Oronmindar will be transported to Tifariti, another Polisario outpost, where they will join 40 other South Asians, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans, who have been living in a warehouse for seven months.

Moroccan Prime Minister Driss Jettou denies that Morocco has abandoned migrants in the desert, but the evidence is plain to see. 'It is only a matter of time,' says Zalik Zein, 'before we start finding bodies.'

Algeria not sending its envoy to Morocco as rift deepens

Algeria is said to have rescinded its decision to send its new ambassador to Morocco, a move which signifies the persistence of tense relations between the two neighbouring North African countries.

The already bad relations between the two countries were made worse in recent days following accusations and counter-accusations by the two countries on the issue of the African illegal immigrants who cross into Europe through Algeria and Morocco.

Major-General Al Arabi Balkhair, the new Algerian Ambassador designated to Morocco, was supposed to reach Rabat last Wednesday, but the Algerian Embassy in Rabat told diplomatic missions in the Moroccan capital that the arrival of the new ambassador had been suspended indefinitely.

The appointment of Balkhair who, until his new appointment, was the Director of the President Abdulaziz Bouteflika’s presidential palace, was seen as an indication of the two countries’ determination to patch up and build relations towards better cooperation.

This is due to Balkhair’s closeness to the Algerian President, on the one hand, and his close ties with other decision-makers in his country, on the other.

Balkhair had played a significant role in improving the two countries’ relations in the eighties of the last century by successfully pushing for restoration of ties, diplomatic representation, the opening of the two countries’ common borders, the setting up of a higher committee for cooperation, and the establishment of the Maghreb Union. Soon after his appointment as his country’s ambassador to Morocco, Balkhair said he would work hard to improve relations between Algeria and Morocco, and to remove obstacles hindering that achievement.

Morocco continues to insist that the issue of Western Sahara was a Morocco-Algeria conflict and not Rabat’s dispute with the Polisario Front, which is fighting for an independent state in Western Sahara, using the Algerian town of Tindouf as its base.

Relations between the two countries, which have suffered so much due to the Western Sahara issue, have in the past few weeks witnessed a further deterioration due to the issue of illegal African immigrants using the two countries as a transit point to enter Europe. Security measures taken by Morocco in recent times to stave-off the illegal immigration menace had sparked strong protest from the illegal immigrants who accused Rabat of gross violation of human rights. Morocco accused Algeria of being the cause behind the increasing flow of illegal immigrants into Morocco.

The Polisario Front recently displayed in front of TV cameras a large number of Africans from sub-Saharan countries, whom the separatist organisation had found in remote desert areas having been dumped by Morocco without food or water, leaving them to the fate of a slow and painful death. The disclosure sparked worldwide condemnation against Morocco, which quickly accused Algeria and the Polisario Front of adopting dirty tactics in the Western Sahara conflict by using the issue of African illegal immigrants.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

UN demands Morocco camps access

Morocco is breaking international laws in the way it is handling immigration problems, says the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

The UNHCR says Morocco is not allowing them full access to camps where they believe asylum seekers are held.

It says it is very disturbed by reports that Morocco's authorities are holding legitimate registered asylum seekers.

Morocco has denied earlier claims it dumped more than 1,000 Africans in the desert without food or water.


The Moroccan government did allow the BBC into camps, 700km south of the capital, Rabat, claiming only illegal immigrants - and not asylum seekers - were being held there.

But, under armed guard, Africans from war-torn countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo showed journalists their UNHCR registration papers and pleaded for help.

"Look at the way they dump me here - suffering in the desert! Please I need help. I want you people to help me from this situation," said a woman.

Many said they were working legally in Casablanca and Rabat when they were rounded up by police, handcuffed and taken by bus to the desert where they were left without water.

They begged the Moroccan government to search the desert for survivors.

Morocco has firmly denied dumping Africans in the desert despite reports by international human rights organisations on the ground.

Transparency International: Morocco comes 78th in international corruption survey

Transparency International (TI), an anti-corruption NGO, has issued its Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) for the year 2005, showing Morocco at the 78th position among 159 countries.

In a press release issued on Tuesday, the NGO said that more than 73% of the 159 nations surveyed scored less than 5 points out of 10.

Morocco, along with China, Senegal, Sri Lanka, and Suriname, had an alarming 3.5-point score.

The results of the CPI offer a composite survey based on the perceptions of business people and country analysts. It draws on a series of polls organized by independent institutions in each country.

For a country to be included, it must feature at least three polls. In Morocco, eight polls were organized among persons active in the fields of business, diplomacy, and university studies.

After the positive signs noted between the years 1999 (45th) and 2000 (37th), the course of the country's corruption index changed in an appalling way.

In 2002, Morocco was 52nd on the list. It moved to the 70th position in 2003, the 77th in 2004, then the 78th this year.

Transparency Maroc (TM), TI's branch in Morocco, said “public powers should urgently understand the seriousness of the current situation, and its disastrous consequences on the accessibility and quality of the Moroccan public services, economy, employment, as well as the country's image and level of economic attractiveness.”

It is high time, Transparency Maroc said, that everyone played their role in the struggle against the phenomenon, although the major responsibility is to be shouldered by public powers. After all, facing the problem is not a mission impossible.

“Corruption isn't a natural disaster: it is the cold, calculated theft of opportunity from the men, women and children who are least able to protect themselves,” said David Nussbaum, TI's chief executive.

Within this framework, the Moroccan Government is called to take action in accordance with the United Nation's Convention against Corruption, and activate strong means to combat all those responsible for the phenomenon.

But the country unfortunately still suffers from rampant corruption in the majority of its sectors.

“Leaders must go beyond lip service and make good on their promises to provide the commitment and resources to improve governance, transparency and accountability,” Nussbaum added.

Among the Arab countries, Morocco figured on the 11th position. The Arab list was headed by Oman, 28th on the general list (6.3 points). Iraq (2.2 points) came last on the Arab countries, 137th on the whole surveyed countries.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Key Facts About Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) and Avian Influenza A (H5N1) Virus

This fact sheet provides general information about bird flu and information about one type of bird flu, called avian influenza A (H5N1) that is infecting birds in Asia and has infected some humans.

What is avian influenza (bird flu)?

Bird flu is an infection caused by avian (bird) influenza (flu) viruses. These flu viruses occur naturally among birds. Wild birds worldwide carry the viruses in their intestines, but usually do not get sick from them. However, bird flu is very contagious among birds and can make some domesticated birds, including chickens, ducks, and turkeys, very sick and kill them.

Do bird flu viruses infect humans?

Bird flu viruses do not usually infect humans, but several cases of human infection with bird flu viruses have occurred since 1997.

How are bird flu viruses different from human flu viruses?

There are many different subtypes of type A influenza viruses. These subtypes differ because of certain proteins on the surface of the influenza A virus (hemagglutinin [HA] and neuraminidase [NA] proteins). There are 16 different HA subtypes and 9 different NA subtypes of flu A viruses. Many different combinations of HA and NA proteins are possible. Each combination is a different subtype. All known subtypes of flu A viruses can be found in birds. However, when we talk about “bird flu” viruses, we are referring to influenza A subtypes chiefly found in birds. They do not usually infect humans, even though we know they can. When we talk about “human flu viruses” we are referring to those subtypes that occur widely in humans. There are only three known A subtypes of human flu viruses (H1N1, H1N2, and H3N2); it is likely that some genetic parts of current human influenza A viruses came from birds originally. Influenza A viruses are constantly changing, and they might adapt over time to infect and spread among humans.

What are the symptoms of bird flu in humans?

Symptoms of bird flu in humans have ranged from typical flu-like symptoms (fever, cough, sore throat and muscle aches) to eye infections, pneumonia, severe respiratory diseases (such as acute respiratory distress), and other severe and life-threatening complications. The symptoms of bird flu may depend on which virus caused the infection.

How does bird flu spread?

Infected birds shed flu virus in their saliva, nasal secretions, and feces. Susceptible birds become infected when they have contact with contaminated excretions or surfaces that are contaminated with excretions. It is believed that most cases of bird flu infection in humans have resulted from contact with infected poultry or contaminated surfaces. The spread of avian influenza viruses from one ill person to another has been reported very rarely, and transmission has not been observed to continue beyond one person.

How is bird flu in humans treated?

Studies done in laboratories suggest that the prescription medicines approved for human flu viruses should work in preventing bird flu infection in humans. However, flu viruses can become resistant to these drugs, so these medications may not always work. Additional studies are needed to prove the effectiveness of these medicines.

What is the risk to humans from bird flu?

The risk from bird flu is generally low to most people because the viruses occur mainly among birds and do not usually infect humans. However, during an outbreak of bird flu among poultry (domesticated chicken, ducks, turkeys), there is a possible risk to people who have contact with infected birds or surfaces that have been contaminated with excretions from infected birds. The current outbreak of avian influenza A (H5N1) among poultry in Asia and Europe (see below) is an example of a bird flu outbreak that has caused human infections and deaths. In such situations, people should avoid contact with infected birds or contaminated surfaces, and should be careful when handling and cooking poultry. For more information about avian influenza and food safety issues, visit the World Health Organization website. In rare instances, limited human-to-human spread of H5N1 virus has occurred, and transmission has not been observed to continue beyond one person.

What is an avian influenza A (H5N1) virus?

Influenza A (H5N1) virus – also called “H5N1 virus” – is an influenza A virus subtype that occurs mainly in birds. It was first isolated from birds (terns) in South Africa in 1961. Like all bird flu viruses, H5N1 virus circulates among birds worldwide, is very contagious among birds, and can be deadly.

What is the H5N1 bird flu that has been reported in Asia and Europe?

Outbreaks of influenza H5N1 occurred among poultry in eight countries in Asia (Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Laos , South Korea , Thailand , and Vietnam) during late 2003 and early 2004. At that time, more than 100 million birds in the affected countries either died from the disease or were killed in order to try to control the outbreak. By March 2004, the outbreak was reported to be under control. Beginning in late June 2004, however, new outbreaks of influenza H5N1 among poultry were reported by several countries in Asia (Cambodia, China [ Tibet ], Indonesia, Kazakhastan, Malaysia, Mongolia, Russia [ Siberia ], Thailand, and Vietnam). It is believed that these outbreaks are ongoing. Most recently, influenza H5N1 has been reported among poultry in Turkey and Romania. Human infections of influenza A (H5N1) have been reported in Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam.

What is the risk to humans from the H5N1 virus in Asia and Europe?

The H5N1 virus does not usually infect humans. In 1997. However, the first case of spread from a bird to a human was seen during an outbreak of bird flu in poultry in Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region. The virus caused severe respiratory illness in 18 people, 6 of whom died. Since that time, there have been other cases of H5N1 infection among humans. Recent human cases of H5N1 infection that have occurred in Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam have coincided with large H5N1 outbreaks in poultry. The World Health Organization (WHO) also has reported human cases in Indonesia. Most of these cases have occurred from contact with infected poultry or contaminated surfaces; however, it is thought that a few cases of human-to-human spread of H5N1 have occurred.

So far, spread of H5N1 virus from person to person has been rare and has not continued beyond one person. However, because all influenza viruses have the ability to change, scientists are concerned that the H5N1 virus one day could be able to infect humans and spread easily from one person to another. Because these viruses do not commonly infect humans, there is little or no immune protection against them in the human population. If the H5N1 virus were able to infect people and spread easily from person to person, an influenza pandemic (worldwide outbreak of disease) could begin. No one can predict when a pandemic might occur. However, experts from around the world are watching the H5N1 situation in Asia very closely and are preparing for the possibility that the virus may begin to spread more easily and widely from person to person.

How is infection with H5N1 virus in humans treated?

The H5N1 virus currently infecting birds in Asia that has caused human illness and death is resistant to amantadine and rimantadine, two antiviral medications commonly used for influenza. Two other antiviral medications, oseltamavir and zanamavir, would probably work to treat flu caused by the H5N1 virus, but additional studies still need to be done to prove their effectiveness.

Is there a vaccine to protect humans from H5N1 virus?

There currently is no commercially available vaccine to protect humans against the H5N1 virus that is being seen in Asia and Europe . However, vaccine development efforts are taking place. Research studies to test a vaccine to protect humans against H5N1 virus began in April 2005, and a series of clinical trials is underway. For more information about the H5N1 vaccine development process, visit the National Institutes of Health website.

Morocco intensifies precautions against bird flu

RABAT, Oct. 18 (Xinhuanet) Morocco is intensifying precautions against bird flu although the North African country has found no case of the deadly disease, the Moroccan Agriculture Ministry said.

According to a report released by the ministry on Monday, Morocco decided to step up precautionary measures in case of the spreading of the disease in Europe.

Morocco has been monitoring possible outbreaks of bird flu since the beginning of this year, and putting poultry farms and wild birds on close watch, it said.

The country will maintain a ban on live birds and bird-related products from the countries affected by the disease, the ministry said. Authorities will put in place stricter quarantine measures at poultry farms, border posts and slaughter houses.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Human rights protests over Morocco's mal treatment of African emigrants

Scores of Moroccan human rights activists demonstrated as an expression of denunciation to news rumored on maltreatment of African emigrants who use Morocco as a starting point to sneak into Europe.

Some 200 activists and passers by gathered near the parliament in the capital Rabat, and some of them chanted slogans in support of the emigrants, while they were carrying lit candles. Others carried banners on which written "Morocco can not be the police of migration to Europe" and "no for racism."

International and local legal groups say that the Moroccan authorities left hundreds of emigrants including pregnant women and children in the desert while others complained they were exposed to beating and starved to hunger. Moroccan officials denied these accusations. They said they honor human rights.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Eyewitness: Migrants suffer in Morocco

Xavier Caser, a doctor working with Medecins Sans Frontieres Spain, tells the BBC News website about his experience treating African migrants in Morocco trying to get into Europe through Spain's enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.

"I worked in Morocco for a month and a half at a our clinic in Tangier, but most of my work was in a 4x4 vehicle, treating immigrants who live in the forest close to the border with Melilla.

They live in the middle of nature, in the wild, with no houses, no nothing. We carry all the medicines and medical supplies in the car with us.

They are very pleased when we arrive, because nobody else is looking after them. The only other people who visit are the police and the army. The immigrants aren't suspicious because MSF Spain has been working there for three years, so they know us.

The typical patient is a person who has tried to jump the fence into Melilla, and is wounded and maybe traumatised.

Open wound

For example, the last man I treated was 24 years old, from Mali (the majority of them come from Mali, Senegal and Cameroon, or Nigeria). This man had a very bad head wound, after a Moroccan soldier had hit him in the head.

It was an open wound, and when I arrived in the forest it was eight hours after he'd been injured, and he was bleeding badly. He lost consciousness, and was very traumatised.

I saw cases like this every day - every time I went to the forest, I would find four, five, six cases like this.

Another problem is the lack of hygienic conditions in the forest. There's no potable water, nowhere to go to the toilet - they go to the toilet in the middle of the forest, close to where they live.

They live with wild animals, they have no shelter - they make little shacks with plastic sheeting - it's filthy.

If you visited, you might think it was impossible to live like this, but they do it. It's also overcrowded - there are 400 to 500 people in a patch of about 400m sq in the forest.

Forest births

I've seen a lot of women give birth in the forest. About 10% of the immigrants are women, and around a quarter of these women are pregnant. (Another quarter have small babies.)

In a month and a half, I saw six deliveries in the middle of the forest with no medical help, apart from us, but often we arrived too late to help with the birth.

One delivery I saw, the woman had a disease called eclampsia, with hypertension and convulsions. I remember the woman was convulsing - it was very dangerous.

We took her to hospital, and this story has a happy ending. She recovered, and the baby was fine.

But it was lucky we arrived. The immigrants won't go to hospital because the police are around - they prefer to stay in the forest, hidden from the security services.

Occasionally we do take patients to hospital, and the staff there always take them in, because we only take the most serious cases. We've never been refused, but they do it reluctantly.

We have to supervise their treatment, because sometimes the hospital refuses to treat the patients in the same way as the Moroccan patients. I know this is a serious allegation.

Often they tell us that MSF has to pay for the medicines for the patients. It's a form of discrimination.

It's true that Moroccans have to pay, but I know that there are some cases when they will tell us we need to pay for medicines they give freely to Moroccan patients.

'Many die on the way'

It is difficult work, mainly because of the working hours. We often work for 24 hours - we have to be available at night, on Sunday mornings, whenever there is an emergency.

But for me personally, this work is very fulfilling. This last experience in Morocco has changed my mind about the immigrant problem.

Sometimes you need to see the problem from inside - from close up, to change your mind. I had a different opinion than I do now.

European governments have to do something.

The situation of these people is terrible - they have nothing. I don't know what the solution is, but the problem needs solving quickly because people are suffering.

And those who arrive at the border are only 10% of those who set out. Many die on the way."

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Migrants leave Morocco, carrying their trek scars

By Zakia Abdennebi

OUJDA, Morocco (Reuters) - Illegal migrants from sub-Saharan Africa prepared to leave Morocco on Thursday, drawing a full circle on a perilous journey marked by humiliation, beatings and killings.

"I left my home in Mali three years ago with 800 euro in my pocket," said Mohamed Saieba, 28, before flying out of the eastern town of Oujda, transit point for thousands of Africans trying to enter Europe illegally.

"I walked through the desert in Algeria and Morocco before arriving at Gourougou forest in northern Morocco."

Now all he carried was a loaf of bread, water, some fruits and a blanket given him by Moroccan authorities. "I have only this blanket to bring home," Saieba said.

Around 10,000 migrants are in Morocco waiting to reach European Union territory illegally and 20,000 more are in Algeria waiting to join them, European intelligence officials say.

Morocco dispatched 4,000 troops to prevent the migrants hiding in Gourougou and Belyounech forests in the north of the country from storming razor-wire fences on Ceuta and Melilla -- Spanish outposts in North Africa and the only EU territories in mainland Africa.

In recent weeks, hundreds of migrants have tried to storm the fences. While many have managed to get across, the attempts have sparked violence that killed 11 people and left hundreds injured.

"Moroccan authorities had beaten me with a baton on the head," Saieba said, pointing to a scar on his left eyebrow.

"I was caught in Ceuta three times and the authorities sent me back and the latest attempt was early this month when Spanish authorities handed me back to Morocco," he added.

He survived begging or scavenging dustbins in Moroccan cities, he said, speaking before he joined 219 other illegal migrants being deported by Rabat authorities to Mali.

Some 140 other Malian migrants were also flown from Oujda early on Thursday, bringing the total number of illegal migrants from Mali and Senegal deported this week to more than 1,000.


"You have to be lucky in this life. I'm not. I waited three years in Morocco to enter Europe. They caught me and they are deporting me. I saw suffering and humiliation," said Kante Sekou, also from Mali.

Sekou did not say whether he will try again but Bachir Kaita said: "I've spent four years away from home to get in Europe."

"I will rest few weeks with my family and restart the trip to the North," he added.

But fellow migrant Moussa Dialo said he feels "ashamed" to go home poorer after a journey of four years. "My family made a great sacrifice to give me money for the trip. Now, I'm returning only with my dirty clothes".

Rabat, pressed by Spain to cut migrants' flows to Europe and by local and international human rights groups to respect migrants' rights, urged the EU to help its costly struggle.

It also urged it to design "a Marshall plan" for poor African countries to keep would-be migrants at home.

Morocco insists the crisis at Ceuta and Melilla is only the result of the huge wealth gap between the two sides of the Mediterranean.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Another Human Tragedy unfolding

After facing the barbed wires and the bullets of Moroccan and Spanish Police. After witnessing the killing and wounding of their comrades, African Immigrants have to go through even more adversities. Hundreds of them have been abandoned in the middle of the desert somewhere along the Moroccan Algerian Border with no resources.

This is a new low in Human compassion. If this had been done to animals, you would have much more people denouncing it. But since those are only helpless African Human Beings, nobody really cares. The World have turned a blind eye on Africa for the past forty years, why would it be any different today.

African migrants 'left in desert'

An aid agency says it has found more than 500 migrants abandoned in the Moroccan desert after being expelled from Spain's North African enclaves.

The migrants said they had entered or tried to enter Ceuta and Melilla but were forced back, loaded onto trucks and driven to the Algerian border.

The discovery by the Spanish branch of Medecins Sans Frontieres follows migrant bids to storm border fences.

Six died on Thursday, some apparently shot while trying to enter Melilla.

Illegal expulsions

A group of 70 migrants were expelled from Melilla on Friday, in the first set of official expulsions expected under a revived 1992 accord between Spain and Morocco.

It allows illegal entrants to be sent back to Morocco, even if they are of different nationalities.

Until now, migrants who successfully entered the enclaves have been housed in holding centres or sent to mainland Spain to await expulsion to their country of origin, often resulting in their release.

But an MSF spokeswoman said that while some of the 500 found in the desert had been detained before they managed to cross the Ceuta and Melilla fences, others had been illegally expelled by Spanish police.

MSF said the sub-Saharan migrants had been "abandoned to their fate" near El Aouina-Souatar, hundreds of kilometres south of the enclaves. The group included pregnant women and children.

The agency said staff had treated more than 50 of them for injuries suffered as a result of crossing the barbed-wire fences.

But the MSF statement claimed some of the injuries were also the result of violence inflicted by the Spanish and Moroccan police as "some showed bruises from being hit by rubber bullets".

EU mission

Javier Gabaldon, co-ordinator in Morocco, denounced the "expulsion and later abandonment of these immigrants to a zone without access to food and water and without the possibility of receiving medical or humanitarian aid".

MSF said "the sending back of immigrants as agreed by Spain and Morocco to a country which does not have minimal capacity to receive them violates Article Three of the (UN) Convention against Torture".

Other aid organisations said they had evidence of similar incidents in recent weeks.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has also raised concerns and called for joint action to tackle the crisis.

The European Union and Spain are both sending missions to Morocco to tackle the issue of illegal immigration.

Monday, October 03, 2005

W Sahara inmates end food strike

Some 30 prisoners, who have been on hunger strike for almost two months in Western Sahara, have agreed to take food again.

They ended their hunger strike because of their families' fears for their lives, the Moroccan Human Rights Association (AMDH) said.

Most of the prisoners were arrested in the anti-Moroccan riots in May in the main Western Sahara town of Laayoune.

AMDH spokesman Adelilah Benabdeslam said the prisoners might resume their hunger strike because the Moroccan authorities had not met their demands for improved conditions and to be moved to prisons closer to home.