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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 January, 2004, 16:08 GMT
Are Sub-Saharans welcome in Morocco?
By Pascale Harter
BBC Africa Live, Rabat

Morocco lies at the crossroads of Africa, Europe and the Middle East

Walking down the busy streets of the Moroccan capital, Rabat, I asked Aicha Lazraq, a 32-year-old Moroccan mother: "How African is Morocco?"

"Of course Morocco is African", she replied. "Kif-kif," she said in Arabic, "We are the same people."

It is the standard Moroccan answer to a question often posed, but sub-Saharans living in Morocco speak of a very different experience.

"If you're black they call you African," says Rojas Ngandounou, a 22-year-old student from Congo, 'that says it all'.

Rojas believes Moroccans think of themselves as Arab while at the same time wanting to be European. "They think they are superior," he says.

Illegal immigrants

Separated from southern Europe by just a few kilometres of sea, Morocco attracts two very different kinds of Sub-Saharan communities.

There are the wealthy, whose parents can afford to send them to study in one of Morocco's private colleges, and the very poor, illegal immigrants hoping to make their way to Europe.

Why should we bother about who is in the north or in the south
Richard D Munsaka, Zimbabwe

Moses has made a year long journey often going without food. For the last few months he has been stuck in Morocco, unable to make the last leg of the journey to Spain.

Moses says he is giving up and going back home to Nigeria.

"I don't feel at home here," he says. "If I was in Cameroon or Mali I would feel at home, but not here".

Aicha concedes there are some differences between Sub-Saharan Africans and North Africans.

"The women dress much more revealingly than we do," she says.

Her sister Najat agrees: "They are always laughing, I think Africans are more open than Moroccans."

Aicha with baby and Najat
Najat (right) feels Africans are more open than Moroccans
Rojas says Moroccans are too stiff. "There are so many things it is forbidden to do here, you're not free at all," he says.

Abdellah Shebhane from Niger says Moroccans do have a different character.

"They are more reserved than us because they are richer and more developed."

Skin colour

Ba Boubakhar, an architect from Mali, says he does not feel he is more welcome in Morocco because he is a fellow Muslim.

"It's not about religion, it's about skin colour. We are black so we are Africans," he says.

Pastor Obama from Equatorial Guinea has been studying in Morocco for three years.

He does not think Moroccans are racist to foreigners, but he does believe black Moroccans have a problem.

"You will never find a black Moroccan studying, you will only see them working as shop assistants, or in the worst jobs."

Rojas, Congolese student in Morocco
Rojas, from Congo, says too many things are forbidden in Morocco
"This means they form just one sector of society."

Most black Moroccans are the descendants of slaves brought to Morocco in the 16th century.

The influx of Sub-Saharan students and illegal immigrants into Morocco is relatively new and there has been little chance for inter-marriage and an intermingling of communities.

But that may change and Morocco could one day be considered more "African" by anyone's standards.


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