"We hide out like wild animals," said Bamandou Kalli, an 18-year-old Guinean who like dozens of fellow migrants is holed up in Moroccan scrubland in fear of expulsion by the authorities.
Ibrahim, a 19-year-old from Guinea, said the situation has become increasingly difficult and worrying. "We don't know what will happen, we cling on to life but it's not easy," he said.
In setting up their new camp, the men have placed carpets and blankets on the parched earth. Food is shared from a cooking pot placed on the ground. They moved to the outskirts of Tangiers, a port city on Morocco's northern coast after authorities launched an operation last month targeting people smugglers and the migrants they bring to the country from sub-Saharan Africa. The campaign came after hundreds of migrants made their way into the Spanish enclave of Ceuta through the heavily fortified border fence.
In the Tangiers neighborhoods of Boukhalef and Mesnanatan, police then moved in with the backing of special forces and helicopters, rounding up migrants, witnesses said. While officials would not comment on the operation, witnesses said numerous people were injured as they were forced onto southbound buses which would see the migrants deported. During one such transfer in early August, two Malians died, one of them a 16-year-old. Moroccan authorities have opened an investigation to determine the circumstances of the "accident."
Walking with a crutch after scrambling over a wall to escape the raid, Wilfried said the operation was "very violent." "They went into the houses, they took our money and our jewelry, they put us on board (the bus) but they couldn't take me," said the 35-year-old from Cameroon. Wilfried said he had already been expelled to Algeria from the Moroccan town of Oujda, despite the border between the two countries being closed. After going back into Morocco he now hoped to reach the Spanish mainland, visible across the water from Tangiers.
Jalal, a Moroccan who helped Wilfried, slammed the authorities for using violence during raids in his neighborhood. "These Africans suffer a lot, they're in a pitiful state," he said. "I was illegally in Europe and I was never treated in this way."
Driss El Yazami, head of Morocco's state-funded National Human Rights Council, said last week the expulsions are legal and that his organization makes sure vulnerable people are protected.
Dozens of migrants protested over the weekend outside the prosecutor's office in Tangiers but were blocked by police, multiple sources said. Witnesses of the raids argue that police fail to distinguish between migrants who are in Morocco with or without documentation.
In Nador, in the northeast, the Moroccan Association of Human Rights has accused authorities of violence towards women, some of whom were pregnant.
Laetitia, a 24-year-old Cameroonian, said some of those affected have been traumatized and others have developed mental health problems. "I thought that Morocco was a country that respected human rights, but seeing how our brothers are mistreated, where are we heading?"
The U.N. has called upon governments to step up and protect their most vulnerable citizens since "trafficking in persons is a vile crime that feeds on inequalities, instability, and conflict,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement for the World Day against human trafficking on July 30th.