Sticky borders: Senegalese migrant encounters with everyday bordering practices in Morocco

IMANE BENDRA  |  8 MAY 2021  |  OXFORD MIGRATION CONFERENCE 2021

Sahat Sidi Abdel Wahab, Oujda. Picture by Imane Bendra.

‘An airport experience’

 

Senegalese street traders, men and women, have been circular traders to and from Morocco for decades; a trade that continues the tradition of early caravans and trans-Saharan trade. To support their activities, they rely on local, international, and religious networks linked to the Tijani-brotherhood in Fez and on shadow circuits of low-end globalisation. The little advancement brought by the National Strategy on Migration and Asylum (NSIA) made migrants more visible. Senegalese migrants then moved towards practising their activities in other cities like Oujda. As transnational mobile migrants, Senegalese migrants who work as street vendors cross the physical borders with relative ease. However, they perpetually encounter borders and practices that control or prevent their access to services in urban spaces. The participants in my research have diverse objectives and aspirations, including continuing their journey to Europe. However, their status and objectives are transient, going from being students to becoming tourists or street vendors, depending on their aspirations and circumstances.

 

The diffusion of borders in Morocco into everyday life makes the migrants’ being and interactions in the public space part of a ‘frisk society... similar to an airport experience’ where they can randomly be questioned and controlled. Borders follow migrants’ mobility, sticking to their bodies and becoming visible with their movement within neighbourhoods or cities. Thus, while leaving Oujda to other towns, such as Fez or Casablanca, might be unproblematic for most migrants, going to cities like Nador or Tangier, closer to Melilla and Ceuta, stick the borders on ‘migrants’ bodies’. This is further exacerbated through some transportation companies that would refuse to take ‘African migrants’ unless they are regularised.


 

Bordering the ‘African’

 

Similar to internal policing practices of undocumented migrants in Europe and the US, Senegalese migrants face bordering practices in Morocco in the rental market, health services, and street policing and law enforcement.

Renting an apartment in the city is characterised by filtering and choosing the ‘good migrant’. The othering of migrants is used to justify frequent check-ups and verifications of the information provided. Accessing public health services is filled with boundaries and unnecessary probing questions. While often referred to as ‘the Africans’, migrants are pushed by health workers to go to a specific health centre, forcing their segregation in the city or ultimately leading to their refusal to get medical attention. These practices are reinforced by local and international organisations that are part of the migration industry and extract value from both the control and care of migrants. Statements, remarks, questions from landlords or health workers are part of ‘a galaxy of erosive stereotypes’, as Franz Fanon wrote, that follow black migrants.

Within the market or souk, relationships with other Moroccan street vendors are based on an implicit reliance on each other. The rich diversity of the people in the market mixes implicitly with the Senegalese’s recent presence. Senegalese migrants are part of the market’s societal fabric, the economic circuit and daily interactions, whether in buying food from the market, providing charity to older Moroccan women, or helping each other in selling products. Being in the market as a street vendor brings its share of risks. Although deportation is not necessarily an outright outcome of these raids, they create a condition of a threat of deportability, based on a discretionary power that aims to keep migrants in check.


 

Bordering practices in urban spaces

 

The externalisation of EU migration policy in Morocco increased border violence and led to the adoption of ‘securitisation of migration’ discourses. The focus of the media and international organisations is mostly on the ‘border spectacles’ in cities bordering Ceuta and Melilla where migrants suffer from frequent physical and visible violence. However, beyond the borders’ spectacles, bordering practices have come to be in the everyday life of migrants who are not interested in moving to Europe and have been living in Morocco for decades. Drawing on an ethnographic study with Senegalese street vendors in Oujda, my research shed light on how borders infiltrate the daily activities of these migrants and reduce their access to rights and their possibilities to interact in the public space.

Similar to the bordering practices at the frontier, those taking place within urban spaces are performative, socially constructed and violent. However, unlike direct and physical violence at the borders, these violent practices in urban spaces are ‘invisible, hidden beneath the surface’, a process that is normalised within everyday interactions.


 

Structural and cultural violence 

 

In Morocco, laws regulating migration, such as law 02-03, resulted in the containment, expulsion and segregation of migrants. This kind of structural violence is also made manifest in discourses and practices of organisations in the migration industry that classify and filter migrants with the aim of both control and care. Structural violence is normalised through different means, notably through media coverage. Overtly sensationalist and discriminatory coverage of migrants is often met with indignation. However, the less visible yet lasting coverage is characterised by the systematic linking of crimes to ‘sub-Saharan migrants’, a racialised category that englobes West and Central African migrants and is linked to irregular migration. Normalised discourses further justify existing stereotypes and are a manifestation of cultural violence. These stereotypes link migrants to the threat of invasion and lack of security and subject them to othering practices in a society that has been considered for years as racially homogenous based on Islam and Arab nationalism. Physical, cultural and structural are interlinked, as violence engenders violence; they feed, strengthen and justify each other.


Final remarks

Research on bordering practices and internal bordering in Morocco is scarce. Through this article, I aimed to fill this gap by shedding light on the nano-racism that Senegalese migrants face and that is noticeable in everyday social interactions. These bordering practices are a result of the racialisation and securitisation of migration in the country as a result of the externalisation of EU migration policy. The border is carried on their physical bodies, on their skin; it becomes an embodied condition that generates restrictions on their mobility and activities.

Notes and references

[1] Low-end globalization refers to ‘the circulation of people, goods, small amounts of capital are involved along with informal, semi-legal or illegal transactions’, as defined by Gordon Matthews and Yang Yang. See also the work of Lamia Missaoui and Alain Tarrius (2010); and Alain Tarrius and Michel Wieviorka (2002).

[2] In 2014, Morocco adopted a ‘new’ migration policy known as the National Strategy for Immigration and Asylum (NSIA). The NSIA aimed to adopt a more humane approach to migration. About 50,000 migrants have received residency cards throughout the 2014 and 2017 campaigns, yet the strict regularisation campaign criteria excluded many migrants who could not provide a proof of residence as they were frequently moving within Morocco. Changes on the ground remain limited, and today most migrants are unable to renew their residency card due to even stricter requirements: a work contract, a COVID-19 test, a renting contract and proof of social/medical insurance.

Imane Bendra

Imane Bendra is a PhD candidate at the University of Antwerp, Belgium where she researches the evolution of migration discourse in Morocco and the impact of externalisation policies and bordering practices on Senegalese migrants who work as street traders in Morocco. She holds an MSc in Africa and international development from the University of Edinburgh and has done previous research on the impact of the new National Strategy of Migration and Asylum (NSMA) on migrants’ daily lives in Morocco. She worked with local organisations in Morocco, while her latest project, with Xchange Perspectives, is concerned with providing accurate and timely information on COVID-19 to migrants in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.

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