Just Wanna Know

Revolutionary Propaganda Organ

Saturday, June 17, 2006

African Berkane


Here's a nice story from Tel Quel from a couple weeks ago (my translation...)

Berkane the African

Stranded temporarily in the Berkane region, sub-Saharan harragas (migrants) survive thanks to the help of local residents. Relations between the two populations are particularly cordial, despite a few clashes and daily misunderstandings.

By Hassan Hamdani, special reporter

Having arrived from Cameroun, after a pilgrimage across Niger and Algeria, Youssef has come to try to force through the skylight of Europe: Melilia. But since Gourougou, the sub-Saharans’ camp near the Spanish enclave, was destroyed in February 2005, he has withdrawn—along with many of his unlucky companions—to the forest around Berkane. He’s been there seven months, on a permanent stopover. “Before, the only contact we would have with the local population would be with the police or the peasants, who would give us food, until we returned to take our chances again at Melilia.”

Berkani by Adoption

Now that Youssef is a Berkani in spite of himself, he goes down regularly into town to beg. He prefers to wait for a better time before he tries again at Melilia, because the climate here is more tolerant: “In Berkane, the shopkeepers don’t refuse to serve us, like they do in Nador,” he says. Their refusal is due in large part to pressure put on the shopkeepers by the authorities, to keep them from selling anything to the sub-Saharans. However, these pressures don’t seem to have been felt at Douar Halouma, a village several kilometers from Berkane. “Immigrants” from Taza and Beni Mellal inside Morocco—agricultural workers—are living on this developed bit of countryside, which has no paved road. One of them, Ahmed, has learned two or three expressions in English in order to relate better to the English speakers from Black Africa who live in a camp in the forest that rises above the village.

Often, when they’re short of money, the sub-Saharans live off the generosity of the villagers. “They come knocking on peoples’ doors at night, looking for someone to help them,” Ahmed explains. The cohabitation between the two communities passes without conflict, even if Ahmed’s companion is upset about the latest rumor to circulate. A bank employee is supposed to have been killed by a sub-Saharan. It must be explained to him that “the man simply fell into an irrigation canal and drowned.” Doing the explaining is Najib Bachiri, president of the humanitarian organization Man and Environment, which aids the sub-Saharans in Berkane. “More and more rumors of cannibalism, attacks, and murders have been raging in Nador province, but there isn’t even an echo of them in Berkane,” he says. “Racism is not a fact of life for the simple, ordinary people of the region. Rather, it’s a trait of people who are said to ‘cultured.’” Bachiri adds that he once saw a business official accuse “these blacks of having eaten monkeys in the forest” (sic). “Since our numbers have grown, the climate has changed,” says Fabrice, a Camerounian like Youssef, completely discouraged. “We don’t have the right to work, only the right to beg. The people here are generous, but someday they might get tired of giving.” The Berkanis have grown accustomed to encountering sub-Saharans every Tuesday, market day, and Friday, the day of prayer. “In Oujda or Nador,” Fabrice says, “I have to identify myself using a Muslim name in order to benefit from the alms. In Berkane, this isn’t necessary.” Najib Charafi [sic] explains: “To stay out of trouble with the authorities, people don’t employ [the sub-Saharans] any more. Several years ago, many of them were working in the fields around Berkane and at construction sites, as a means of paying for their trip.”

Interdependent Shopkeepers

John, a 20-year-old Liberian who lives in a camp close to Fezouan, a tiny village a dozen kilometers from Berkane, is one of the lucky few. He has managed to find work in a hotel in the village. But it’s part-time, two days a week, even though he’s been in Morocco for five years. Having come down into the village to find something to eat, he waits for a fellow countryman who has gone into the larger town of Berkane: “He borrowed a moped from one of the village’s residents.” One of their hangouts is Chouaib Snacks, whose owner is known for giving out free sandwiches. But there’s also Essalam Bakery, where Amine has the habit of giving out 20 loaves of bread for the abir sabil (the “traveling children,” as he prefers to call them) who hang out along the commercial street. “They avoid forming groups larger than two, in order not to attract attention, and they’re very careful to stay well dressed,” says Amine. Some, like Youssef, have even made a few friends. As a result, the Camerounian has become the center-forward on a neighborhood soccer team in Berkane, and he does wonders on the field every Saturday. For Fabrice, however, after eight months in Berkane, the impression is more shaded—“Sometimes, the kids throw rocks at us”—even though he admits that relations with most Berkanis are cordial, like the barber who cuts his hair for free. Some migrants even go so far as to deposit their cash with certain shopkeepers, confident that they will not rob them.

Youssef and Fabrice are waiting for the World Cup before they try again to cross the border. They’re counting on the Moroccan and Spanish police to relax a bit during this period, distracted by the soccer matches. Najib Charafi [sic] doesn’t appear very hopeful: “Fortress Europe has decreed that tolerance has a single color: blond and blue-eyed,” he states very philosophically. While it also waits, the town of Berkane (which means “black” in Berber) discovers cohabitation with a new population well on its way to remaining in Morocco...

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