Jobless Moroccans driven to risk the dire Straits of Gibraltar
Everyday, Othmane Berrahou goes to the city beach, gazes for hours at the deep blue ocean stretching beyond the horizon to the magical land of Europe, and he wonders when he will make his escape to a dream.
Stories of scores of his countrymen who "successfully braved" the dark ocean or the troubled waters of Gibraltar, reverberate like fairy tales in the mind of Othmane (not his real name.)There are no official figures on the number of Moroccans who attempt to make it illegally to Spain, but local observers say at
least 200 Moroccans embark every month on the hazardous trip. That number rises considerably during summer when the treacherous Gibraltar straits are calmer.
"I am trying to figure out a way to sneak into one of the European or American ships that come to the port of the city," 25-year-old Othmane says. But the journey is not a safe one - unofficial sources suggest that a thousand people drowned last year in the strait. Others put the figure much higher and say those counted represent only a fraction of the total.
Larger numbers of would-be immigrants are buried forever under the shifting waters of the strait. But for many desperate youngsters,the dark threat of the sea is not as perilous as the grim future they see awaiting them at home. In a poll conducted a few months ago by an independent newspaper, "Le Journal", about 90 per cent Moroccan youngsters said they want to emigrate and live abroad.
According to the poll, 89 per cent of youngsters in the 20-29-age bracket want to leave - the rate falls to 71 per cent for people aged 30 to 39, and the poll revealed that women's views are not much different.
Contrary to a common assumption that women are more attached to their homeland than young men, the survey showed that 68 per cent of the women interviewed said they would not hesitate to leave the country if they had the chance. Othmane graduated from university two years ago and has so far been unable to snare a job in a country where employment has become the rarity.
Government figures put the jobless rate at 18 per cent in a population of 30 million souls. "I feel that I have become a heavy load on my family", says Othmane. He bitterly wonders how he can continue to rely on his father, who provides for a family of seven with a modest pension.
Othmane knows that his chances of making it to Europe are slim - even if he survives, he probably will be caught and repatriated by the Spanish Guardia Civil. Illegal immigrants caught and repatriated to Morocco are usually tried and sentenced to a one month suspended jail term. If they try again they get two months, usually sorted out with a fine.
An accord concluded between Morocco and Spain on illegal immigration and drug trafficking provides for the repatriation of those caught. The accord also stipulates an intensified economic and financial cooperation plan to promote Morocco's northern regions, where most of the illegal immigrants and drug traffickers come from.
Against all odds, the risk is worth taking for the Moroccan desperados. Othmane seethes with envy as he remembers several of his childhood friends who have settled in Europe. Every summer,they return for the holidays, showing off their material comforts - cars, credit cards and fashionable clothes.
Professor Hamed Moumen Touil, a sociologist, campaigns for an "efficient job-generating policy to stop the bleeding and ease the acute social crisis triggered by unemployment."
The socialist-led government of Prime Minister Abderrahmane Youssoufi has so far been unable to cope with the problem, after more than a year in power. Employment Minister Khalid Aliwa, who is also the official spokesman of the government, argued at a press conference that employment, like other problems facing Morocco, needs time to fix.
"The government is trying to curb down the major problems of external debt and budget deficit so as to enhance savings and spur investments as the ideal path to generating more jobs for university graduates." Finance Minister Fathallah Oualalou, said recently that the government has cut Morocco's external debt to
less than $18.2 billion, from more than $24 bn a year ago. This is 54 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP).
The government also hopes the country's nascent private sector will play its part in helping with employment. However, the private sector stumbles along through several impediments, including vast bureaucracy and outdated investment and labor laws and is not yet in a position to soak up thousands of young people who graduate every year from the country's universities and higher institutes.
"The government should first lower the obstacles through reforming the existing laws and granting the private sector more facilities, if the sector is to be associated to solving the social problems," said Mr. Saeed Zerwali, owner of a clothing factory.
Last week, more than 2,000 jobless university graduates from across Morocco staged a sit-in in front of the parliament headquarters in downtown Rabat to protest the government's failure to meet their grievances and fulfill its promises to find them jobs.
In an attempt to help with the acute crisis, the European Union increased its financial assistance to 150 million ecus between 1996 and 1999, compared with a previous 44 million ecus. The assistance
is mainly aimed at leveling up Morocco's small and medium size
enterprises and creating more employment opportunities for job
seekers. –(Albawaba -MEBG)
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)