Barcelona– Sub-Saharan migrant women have endured various forms of sexual violence in their countries of origin and on their way to Europe. Many are forced to leave their homes because of violence related to conflict or to escape forced marriages or domestic violence. They face further abuse and sexual violence on their journey northward and in Morocco and are frequently subjected to sexual exploitation in the form of prostitution. Few of them dare to speak out about what they have suffered. MSF is concerned that the information gathered by its teams constitutes only a small portion of a problem of alarming proportions that has yet to be addressed by the Moroccan authorities and the countries of the European Union.
“The Moroccan Government needs to improve the care provided to Sub-Saharan migrants victims to sexual violence in their territory,” says Alfonso Verdú, head of MSF operations. “European Union countries need to be aware of the serious consequences their increasingly restrictive migration and asylum policies have on the health and safety of migrants, particularly the most vulnerable, women and young girls.”
Between May 2009 and January 2010, one out of three women treated by MSF in Rabat and Casablanca admitted having been subjected to one or more sexual attacks, either in their country of origin, on the journey and or in Morocco. MSF gathered testimonies from 63 patients, of which over 21% were minors. These testimonies illustrate the extreme vulnerability of these women throughout their journey.
This is the case of O.A, a 26-year-old Congolese woman who fled the conflict in her country after she was raped by a group of men. Since she had no passport, a truck driver offered to smuggle her from Mauritania into Morocco under the seat of his truck. On the way, the truck stopped in the middle of the desert. “The driver and his friend started to argue and then the driver got closer to me and hit me. When I fell down, he squeezed my breasts and insulted me. Then the friend of the driver raped me. I screamed but no one could hear me, we were in the desert. When they finished, they fled,” explains O.A. who managed to arrive in Morocco helped by another driver.
The border between Maghnia, in Algeria
, and Oujda, in Morocco, constitutes a particularly dangerous part of the journey, 59% of the 63 women interviewed told MSF staff that they were sexually assaulted there. Although the border with Algeria remains officially closed, the Moroccan security forces still expel migrants to that area. Expulsions tend to take place at night, increasing the likelihood of attacks.
To date, a 19-year old woman, was arrested by the police when she was going to the market in Oujda and transferred to the police station where there were another 28 Sub-Saharan migrants. The entire group was deported and returned to the border in the middle of the desert that very evening. While she was walking with three men and three women, a group of Moroccan bandits attacked them. “The women were all raped by three bandits, one after the other,” she explains.
The MSF teams in Morocco have confirmed that, as a result of restrictive European Union migration and asylum policies, the number of migrants blocked in Morocco unable to reach Europe or return to their countries of origin has grown. These migrants not only live in precarious conditions but also feel increasingly hopeless and worried. Their irregular status increases their vulnerability, with women particularly affected. Excluding Oujda, one third of the migrants interviewed by MSF had experienced sexual abuse on Moroccan soil.
“We cannot ignore the reality these women have to face when they are left to fend for themselves with an increasing feeling of frustration and despair”, concludes Alfonso Verdú. “A comprehensive response is needed which includes social, medical, psychological and legal support.”
Doctors Without Borders began working with Sub-Saharan migrants in Morocco in 2000. Since then, the organisation has carried out several healthcare projects and sought to improve living conditions in Tanger, Casablanca, Rabat and Oujda.
Advocacy activities to complement medical action include lobbying authorities and other actors to assume responsibility for protection and assistance to migrants. MSF emphasizes the obligation to provide access to healthcare to Sub-Saharan migrants and ensure respect for their dignity. In a report published in 2005, MSF documented violence and abuse perpetrated against migrants by Moroccan and Spanish security forces. In 2008, MSF submitted a follow-up report to Spanish and Moroccan authorities.
Between 2003 and 2009, MSF carried out 27,431 consultations, of which 4,482 were lesions and traumas (16.3%). Moreover, more than 7,500 people were accompanied and referred to Moroccan health facilities in close collaboration with the country’s Ministry of Health. In 2010, MSF constructed a report
titled "Sexual violence and migration".