'Displaced, they swam to Spain': evacuated Moroccan villagers swim to Ceuta, dozens vow to follow

'Displaced, they swam to Spain': evacuated Moroccan villagers swim to Ceuta, dozens vow to follow
Yearly, thousands of Moroccan migrants embark on deadly journeys primarily due to a dearth of job opportunities and a longstanding sense of injustice.
3 min read
29 February, 2024
"It's either death or Europe. There's no life for us here," said a villager in Belyounech. [Getty]

Dozens of Moroccan migrants swam to the Spanish-controlled Ceuta over three days following their forced evacuation from homes in a nearby village on the Moroccan side. Many of their neighbours are vowing to take the same step in the upcoming days.

On Monday, 26 February, approximately 100 migrants succeeded in breaching the border waves barrier separating Bilionch from Ceuta after enduring more than thirty-six hours of swimming.

"A majority (40) of the newcomers are of Moroccan nationality, with some Algerians and Syrians among the arrivals," stated a security source in Ceuta to Europa Press on Tuesday. Among them, 23 are minors.

Upon reaching Ceuta, several migrants recounted to security forces undertaking such a perilous journey after local Moroccan authorities demolished their village in the Belyounech area as part of the state's effort to reclaim public maritime property, reported Europa Press.

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Last Thursday, local authorities deployed several bulldozers in Belyounech, a coastal village near the northern city of Tetouan and seven kilometres from Ceuta.

"They razed our homes and businesses. Now we're homeless, with nowhere to turn," lamented Mohamed, a 56-year-old fisherman.

In Belyounech, villagers say they weren't aware of the legal status of their residences and small businesses, having inhabited and operated there for decades without receiving any official warrant from authorities.

"When they presented us with the eviction notice, we complied with the law, but all we requested was compensation or some form of resolution. They offered nothing," voiced Soulaimane, a 24-year-old resident and restaurant worker in Belyounech.

On Wednesday, Soulaimane sat reading, in a mix of melancholy and joy, the news of his neighbours and childhood friends who had successfully crossed to Ceuta. "I'm happy they made it," he said with a grin. "It's either death or Europe. There's no life for us here," he added —a feeling that dozens of young villagers in Belyounech share.

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Belyounech is not the first casualty of Rabat's 'liberation of maritime public domain plan.'

Since last December, Moroccan authorities have started evacuating numerous villages established within the maritime public domain.

In January, authorities evacuated the Amazigh fishermen village of Imsouane and the  notorious island of Sidi Abderrahmane in Casablanca, primarily inhabited by fortune-tellers who offered their services to visitors of 'the holy Sayyid of Aberehman.'

Moroccan has for long been a major launch pad for Moroccan and Sub-Saharan migrants aiming to reach Europe through the Mediterranean, the Atlantic or by jumping the fence surrounding the Spanish enclaves of Melilla.

A shortage of job opportunities, impoverishment, and a long-standing feeling of 'Hougra' (injustice) are the main reasons behind tens of thousands of migrants' deadly journeys to Europe. 

In 2023, Rabat stopped 75,184 people from entering Europe as it strengthened migration cooperation with Madrid, as the two states vow to curb further irregular migration, by land and sea, in the following years.