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06CASABLANCA1333 2006-12-28 15:11:00 CONFIDENTIAL Consulate Casablanca
Cable title:  

RED ALERT FOR MIGRANTS IN MOROCCO

Tags:   PGOV PHUM PINR PREL PREF SMIG MO 
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1. (SBU) Summary: A recent spate of incidents involving Moroccan
security forces and sub-Saharan migrants, refugees, and asylum
seekers has stirred fear and anxiety throughout the sub-Saharan
population in Morocco. On December 23, Moroccan security officials
rounded up more than 200 sub-Saharans, in three Rabat neighborhoods,
and reportedly transported them to the Algerian border, 50 miles from
the Moroccan city of Oujda. Included in the sweep, according to
UNHCR and local NGOs, were approximately 50 refugees and asylum
seekers holding UNHCR identification papers. Three days later,
hundreds of illegal migrants stormed the 20 foot fence surrounding
the Spanish enclave of Melilla, approximately 70 miles northwest of
Oujda. Moroccan state news agency reported that security forces
arrested 40 sub-Saharans following the incident in Melilla. End
Summary.



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The Rabat Roundup


--------------------------





2. (C) According to Emmanuel Mbolela, president of the Congolese
Association for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Morocco (ARCOM),
police entered the homes of refugees and asylum seekers in the
pre-dawn hours of December 23 and, ignoring their official UNHCR
identification papers, apprehended approximately 50 people. As
evidence of their claim, ARCOM provided post with a list of names and
UNHCR identification numbers of those who, they say, the security
forces "kidnapped." In addition, newspaper reports claim that police
captured 200 sub-Saharans, presumably both recognized and
clandestine. By contrast, a Moroccan police contact told RSO that
security forces rounded up approximately 230 clandestine sub-Saharan
migrants, who had been living illegally in Rabat for more than 6
months, and transported them to the Algerian frontier. Authorities
claim to have taken no one with UNHCR identification.



3. (C) While it is difficult to ascertain the exact number of people
gathered up, it appears that a significant percentage of them were
holding UNHCR identification papers. Anne Triboulet, acting office
director for UNHCR, estimates Moroccan security forces took between
40-50 UNHCR recognized refugees and asylum seekers from their homes
in Rabat and transported them to the frontier. Triboulet told
Poloff, from what she can ascertain, 200-400 sub-Saharans were taken
into custody, herded onto six busses, and dropped off in the desert
near the Algerian border.



--------------------------


A little Help From Our Friends


--------------------------





4. (C) Triboulet said that some of the refugees and asylum seekers
have made their way from the dumping point to Oujda and are staying
in contact with UNHCR by cell phone and through local NGOs. The GOM
has forbidden UNHCR representatives to travel to Oujda to check on
the state of the refugees and asylum seekers. Triboulet acknowledges
that forged documents are a problem for the authorities in these
types of situations. She confirmed that she has offered her
assistance to the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) to help identify
those sub-Saharans in the group who UNHCR has already recognized as
legitimate. According to Triboulet, there has not yet been a
response to her offer from the MOI.



5. (C) At this point, Triboulet is worried about the health and
welfare of UNHCR's people of concern. The temperatures in Oujda are
dipping to the low 40s and the migrants are ill prepared for the
cold. In addition, an NGO, Refugees Without Borders (R.S.F.),
reported that there are four ill women and six women with small
children hiding out near Oujda. R.S.F. claims women and children are
part of the group who was forcibly removed from their homes in Rabat
and dumped at the frontier. Triboulet assures us that Doctors
Without Borders and the French Church of Morocco are tending to the
refugees and asylum seekers in the area. She reported that there
does not seem to be anyone in need of immediate medical attention at
the moment. This situation, however, could change dramatically
overnight as forecasts predict temperatures will drop to the 30s in
the next week.



--------------------------


Fear and Loathing in Rabat


--------------------------



CASABLANCA 00001333 002 OF 002





6. (C) Word of the captures spread quickly through the refugee
community. Within hours of the early morning raid, the two leading
NGOs representing refugees and asylum seekers in Morocco, ARCOM and
R.S.F., were circulating emails about the roundup. The emails warned
all migrants to be on "red alert." Moreover, ARCOM almost
immediately called for a protest march to demonstrate solidarity.
Rumors of more raids in two other Rabat neighborhoods, however,
quieted the calls for a demonstration but the option was left open
for a "public meeting or protest in the future." It is clear that
tempers are flaring and a sense of panic is on the rise in Rabat's
migrant community.



--------------------------


The Storming After the Storm


--------------------------





7. (C) Three days after the Rabat raids, hundreds of illegal
sub-Saharans stormed the 20-foot fence surrounding the Spanish
enclave of Melilla, less than 70 miles from Oujda. The Moroccan
state news agency reported that three waves of migrants stormed the
fence, which resulted in the arrests of 40 sub-Saharans. The
assaults were reminiscent of a series of attacks that occurred in
October 2005, which led to the deaths of 16 people.



8. (C) According to NGOs and UNHCR, as many as 10,000 illegal
migrants are currently hiding out in the forests surrounding Melilla
and Sebta, the other Spanish enclave on Morocco's Mediterranean
coast. These numbers are roughly the same as they were last year
when migrants stormed the fences surrounding both cities in a
weeklong string of assaults. This year, like last year, worsening
weather conditions and lack of water and firewood may have had a hand
in prompting the assault. There are those, also, who believe the
recent push in Rabat to clear out the illegals may have added to the
migrants' sense of desperation, giving them the added incentive
needed to launch the attack.



--------------------------


Comment


--------------------------





9. (C) Comment: With the EU's southern flank tightening up and
increased naval patrols in the waters off the Canary Islands,
thousands of potential refugees, asylum seekers, and illegal migrants
fleeing political violence and poverty are being stranded in Morocco,
awaiting the opportunity to slip into the EU. Morocco is caught in
the difficult situation of balancing domestic security with
fulfilling its international obligations to protect legitimate
refugees and asylum seekers. Part of this dilemma, however, could be
resolved were Morocco to officially recognize UNHCR's mission and
accept its proposal to establish a joint registration process for
legitimate refugees and asylum seekers. End Comment.

GREENE