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.


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