Sub-Saharans in Tangier pray to be 'lucky ones' who reach Spain - Kogonuso

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Sep 28, 2018

Sub-Saharans in Tangier pray to be 'lucky ones' who reach Spain

The popular Morocco-Spain route comes with danger, as authorities carry out raids and the navy fires on migrant boats.

Tangier, Morocco - Nestled in Tangier's backstreets, Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral rises above the fracas of heated market trading as Archbishop Santiago Agrelo Martinez leads an impassioned service.

Most of his congregation are sub-Saharan Africans planning to reach Europe.

As the service ends, Martinez is surrounded by worshippers pleading for assistance with medical bills or employment.

Others simply ask for a prayer for friends who recently attempted the crossing to Spain but have since disappeared.

"Our desire is that emigrants have a family unit through the church to which they can always go, as if it was their own home," Martinez tells Al Jazeera.

"The most difficult thing is to see them humiliated every day, begging in the street, suffering in fear and not knowing when that hell will end," he says. "I cannot help feeling their situation as mine.

"In this house, we somehow take care of everything for them: food, clothing, body hygiene, physical and mental health, housing, the schooling of children, the development of personal skills and assisting them with getting jobs in small companies in Tangier."

For the first time since the refugee crisis began in 2015, the Morocco to Spain route has become the most popular path for asylum seekers attempting to reach Europe's shores.

If I stay in Mali there is no work, no future and no security. I want to go to Europe to work, I'm happy to do all the jobs that Europeans don't want to do; I just want to be safe.

Alhassane Keita, 42-year-old Mali migrant

Up until September 10 this year, a total of 34,994 people made the perilous journey, dwarfing numbers for the Libya-Italy and Turkey-Greece routes with 20,210 and 20,827 respectively. This figure is also already treble that of 2017.

According to some reports, Moroccan authorities believe 50,000 migrants are currently based in Tangier and its surrounding area.

The Morocco route is not without its own specific danger.

Earlier this month, Amnesty International blasted Moroccan authorities for a "shocking" crackdown on sub-Saharans.

Since the end of July, the Moroccan police together with the Royal Gendarmerie and the Auxiliary Forces carried out major raids on the neighbourhoods where refugees and migrants live in several cities, with particular intensity in the northern provinces of Tangier, Nador and Tetuan, which neighbour the Spanish borders, said the rights group.

"This shocking crackdown on migrants and refugees in Morocco is both cruel and unlawful. It represents a worrying backslide for a government that in 2013 introduced new asylum and migration policy commitments to bring Morocco into compliance with international standards," said Heba Morayef, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Director.

An estimated 5,000 people were swept up in the raids since July, piled on to buses and abandoned in remote areas close to the Algerian border or in the south of the country, according to the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH). The group monitored the number of buses that left from Tangier, Tetuan and Nador and calculated an estimate for the number of people seized.

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