My topic of study here in Morocco is Migration and Transnational identity—a topic I knew very little about before arriving in Rabat. In the insular world of our American politics, immigration is a buzzword often hurled across the partisan divide. It’s a word used to designate an identity and delineate the degree of “belonging”. But beyond the politicization, it’s a global crisis that we too often over-simplify in the US for our own convenience. So for the next few moments I ask you to detach yourself from these politics and take a hard look at the current reality of our planet's largest mass migration since World War II.
Due to its close proximity to Europe, Morocco is a case study in this great migration. Immigration to Morocco is popular among sub-Saharan Africans, seeking permanent residence in Europe. There are a variety of reasons that people leave their country. Some are “pushed” by poor economic conditions, war and conflict, or even environmental factors such as prolonged drought. As climate change continues to ravage the most resource-impoverished places in Africa, some immigrants have much less agency in the matter.
There are “pull” factors for these immigrants too—the promise of higher wages for their skill in Europe as well as safety and security. Morocco is the holdover country for many awaiting visas to Europe. But many families in this transitory period end up calling Morocco home for much longer. As a year turns to ten, or fifteen, questions of assimilation, status, and even logistics grow—such as the education of immigrant children.
Emigration is also a very relevant reality for Morocco. As Moroccans often are attracted to Europe by the same “pull” factors as immigrants, a recent surge of emigration has led the country to reevaluate. Many highly-educated Moroccans are interested in work as doctors, lawyers and engineers in Europe, resulting in what many are beginning to consider a “brain drain”.
In 2013, the King of Morocco created new government agencies to specifically address migration within the country. As a result, many programs now exist to service the “Moroccan Residents Abroad”. Similarly, a policy was put in place that entitles any immigrant to Morocco to documented status, public education and a work permit. While the political parties within the country have differing opinions on how to best improve the efficiency of these programs, all are in strong favor of the maintenance of such a welcoming immigration policy. When our class met with the Moroccan Ministry of Home Affairs, we were aghast at this concept. We all repeatedly asked to try to understand how political parties could all support an immigration process so unanimously. As Americans who watched the rise of a xenophobic administration who is fueled by anti-immigration rhetoric, we could not comprehend a country that could rally around the legalization of the migrant.
But here’s the reality. Migration is as old as human beings. Humans are innately nomadic. Agriculture is what originally required people to settle down and then the sense of property and ownership started. Then evolved the concept of borders. Our modern notion of nation-states survives solely on the concept of these borders that tell us who is in and who is out. Borders provide us with a sense of belonging and naive security, but they also give way to a rhetoric of the “other” who doesn’t belong. While this may help us make sense of our world, it is an incredibly unnatural way to organize it institutionally. No measure of border-drawing , dividing ethnic identities or wall-building can contradict the natural flow of human beings moving around the planet, and recent events are only proving that to be more true.
It is fascinating to study the way that Morocco, as a country, is recognizing and meeting this reality in policy, and gradually following suit in practice. Sure, racism against sub-Saharan immigrants exists. But to have a government who is actively engaging in policy that silences such mentalities, and that is starting a dialogue of legality and belonging is something extraordinary to witness firsthand.
With the movement and mingle of people comes the exchange of ideas – a powerful thing. For my internship and final research project, I will be pursuing a closer study of the how the government’s Islamic moderation efforts intersect with the lives of both immigrants living in Morocco and with Moroccan residents abroad. While radicalization continues to be a major concern for migration policies globally, Morocco is doing some incredible work training Imams to work throughout Africa on religious moderation. I am so excited to learn more on this topic and better understand the intersection of religion and the movement of people.
I am continually being made more certain that migration is one of the most important topics of our time. Take a moment today to read about the hundreds of thousands on the move, and recognize the transitory nature of our humanity.