A Moroccan Perspective on Migration
CrossCulture fellow Nour Eddine Bellahbib from Morocco talks about working with migrants as a programme coordinator of the non-governmental organization "Assocication Beni Znassen pour la Culture, le Développement et la Solidarité", as well as his expectations of participating in the CrossCulture Programme. This Programme gives young professionals, especially from predominantly muslim countries, the opportunity to explore the work routine in a different cultural setting through a two to three months internship in Germany.
Interview by Leontine Päßler
ifa: Who are the people you work with in Morocco and how does your work look like?
Nour Eddine: We largely work with migrants from sub-Sahara Africa who cross the border from Algeria to Morocco. When we started our work in 2005, most of them were living in the forest because there were no other supporting efforts made towards them. The migrants were living in a transit situation which prolongs. Concerning all the hardships migrants experience during their flight route and the traumas that are caused, me and my colleagues saw the need to act on this. One of our earliest emphases we set on unaccompanied women and focused especially on their protection.
ifa: How would you describe the relationship between civil society and migrants in Morocco?
Nour Eddine: We noticed that it is hard for the civil society to cope with the increase of foreigners in the country. Especially when it comes to cultural differences and language barriers, there is potential of misunderstandings and confrontation. Most migrants don’t have any knowledge of the social codes of Moroccan society, so conflicts may arise. A simple example is the different behavior in the month of Ramadan. Migrants often have a different faith or different traditions, so they might not be fasting and might not know about Ramadan rituals. It already happened that Moroccans felt provoked by eating or smoking migrants.
ifa: For most non-governmental organisations volunteers from civil society are an important part of their workforce. Is it possible for ABCDS to rely on volunteers and civil society?
Nour Eddine: Overall it is not easy for us to find volunteers because, like I said, most of the population is not really acquainted with foreigners who speak different languages, might look different and who have a different religion or traditions. Moreover, the massive influx of migrants in the country was overwhelming for the Moroccan population. Although we know from the statistics that percentage wise there aren’t many migrants compared to the local population, but it certainly seems that way for many Moroccans. Therefore it is easier for us to work with Moroccans who themselves have been living abroad for some time or who have family members that live abroad. In general we mostly rely on friends and people they know. But I also see it as a part of our job to raise the awareness and acceptance for the needs and perspectives of migrants.
ifa: Did your work change over the years?
Nour Eddine: When we first started, our main tasks included providing food, clothes and material to build a shelter – simply put: taking care of the basic needs. Aside from border control and deportation customs, we were probably the first Moroccans they had contact with.
A turning point for our work was when the radical change in Moroccan migration policy happened in 2013 and 2014. The state announced a regularization process, which allowed irregular immigrants to apply for residence permits and we became a member of the local regularization committee. One big achievement of our advocacy work during the regularization process was the automatic regularization of women and children. Due to their vulnerable status they are now being regularized directly.
ifa: From your point of view, how could the challenges of increased migration in Morocco be solved?
Nour Eddine: I think that the "phenomenon of migration", as I like to call it, can only be absorbed through a stable economy and continuous advocacy work by civil society. But most importantly I think we need to be aware of the importance of understanding the perspectives of others. If you work with people of different cultural backgrounds there can’t be simply one approach for all. Moreover the solution can’t only come from "our side". Matters of improvement need to be developed by all participants especially the affected people, in this case the migrants. If they are involved in the decision-making they will also be committed, which is very important.
ifa: Let us talk about your participation in the CrossCulture Programme: what motivated you to apply?
Nour Eddine: I have been really interested in how Germany deals with the "phenomenon of migration". It made me curious that even in Germany - the cliché country of precision and excellent coordination - it also doesn’t quite work out perfectly. This is why I wanted to use this opportunity to get an on-side glimpse of how migration-work is done here in Germany
ifa: How do you plan to use your gained knowledge after you return to your home country?
Nour Eddine: My host organization "Crisis Simulation for Peace", short CRISP, is primarily working with simulation games and experience-based learning in the context of social conflicts. I am already a little bit acquainted with simulation games, but I am pretty sure that I can still learn a lot about their way of developing and conducting those games.
What I especially like is that they don’t bring readymade solutions to people, which is also kind of my working attitude. They propose their ideas in an empowering kind of way, so the participants can shape the process themselves. I believe that this insight will benefit my work in Morocco greatly.