Morocco is a transit country for many sub-Saharan Africans on their way to Europe. But some now prefer not to risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean Sea, opting instead for a new life in Morocco itself.
In Casablanca's bustling central souk there is a section of the market where you don't see that many Moroccans. Instead, almost all those who work here are from countries across sub-Saharan Africa, such as Ivory Coast, Guinea and Cameroon.
Richard Wenong is a Cameroonian electrician who works around the market, where his wife has a beauty parlor. He was one of the sub-Saharans who initially sawMorocco only as a transit country on his way to Europe. But then he changed his mind: "I saw it was not important for me because I got some jobs I can do since I'm a technician. I finally integrated myself here, so things are moving well with me, no need to go to Europe," he told DW.
In the last four years, thousands of sub-Saharan Africans have acquired Moroccan residency papers, following two migrant legalization initiatives led by the government. Richard is one of nearly 20,000 migrants currently waiting for their papers to be processed. He has many friends and relatives who have cone to Europe. Not all of their stories had a happy ending. "It's very, very difficult.Some lose their lives, some succeed," Richard said
It pays to speak French
Mohamed Mboyo, from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), lives further north, in the capital, Rabat. A journalist, he arrived in 2013, fleeing political persecution, and now has his own show on Moroccan radio. He had to leave DRC to save his life: "The Democratic Republic of Congo is a trouble zone now and I've been working as a journalist in my country and I face some threats from the government," he told DW.
Mboyo has received help from AMAPPE, an association that helps small businesses. It offers advice, financing and training to self-employed workers. One of its projects helps immigrants, many of them sub-Saharan Africans:
"AMAPPE granted me their financial support. They bought me a computer - an important tool for a journalist," Mboyo said. He found it easy to integrate into Moroccan society, because he speaks French: "You can find a job, you can manage a life," he said.
Hassan Errifai, who works for AMAPPE, explained how many migrants have changed their view of Morocco in recent years: "Immigrants consider themselves at home here. This has given the migrant or the refugee the feeling of belonging to a country whose culture they share as well."
This, Errifai added, has turned Morocco into a host country too.
A welcoming new home
Even though the legalization of thousands of sub-Saharans represented a major shift in policy in Morocco, judging by the reaction of university students in Rabat, it's a change that many Moroccans welcome. One student told DW that he was open to the idea of people from other nationalities coming to his country to study or work: "There is just a minority of Moroccans who are intolerant of people coming from other countries." Another pointed out that Moroccans themselves often migrate to other countries or continents: "So I think it's normal. If they are good at their job they will impact the economy and it will be better, for sure."
Morocco's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is currently growing faster than that of many European countries. After years of trying to leave the country as quickly as they could, sub-Saharan Africans are now playing an increasingly important role in Morocco's economy and society.