Thursday, May 14, 2009

Has 40 Years of Migration Helped Morocco?

There are a lot of things in the news right now about economic deals Morocco is entering in regarding power plants, fishing, cell phones, etc and big resorts that are going to be built in the country. This article taken from Radio Netherlands website seems a bit more interesting, it is looking at how 40 years of out migration from Morocco has affected the country.


Has 40 years of migration helped Morocco?

By Philip Smet*


Forty years ago saw the beginning of a stream of migration from Morocco to the Netherlands. The so-called "guest workers" wanted to earn money for their families at home. Today, around three million Moroccans live outside the country. In total they send more than three billion euros to the area they come from every year. Has it helped?

Fouad Haji from Rotterdam was born forty years ago in the Rif Mountains, the area along the Mediterranean coast from which many Moroccan men have left for Europe. They were later followed by their families. This is how Mr Haji, now a Rotterdam councillor, came to the Netherlands at the age of 13. He still visits his homeland regularly and is very critical about what migration has done for his country.
"In the first instance you would say migration has done a lot for the people of the Rif Mountains. You see beautiful, large newly-built houses. The people who stayed behind can depend on receiving financial support," says Mr Haji, who has just returned from a conference in Morocco, at which this very problem was discussed.

"But the disadvantage is that Rabat thinks that these people can look after themselves. The government leaves the region to fend for itself. All attention is focused on other regions in the country. That is annoying. If you look at the democratisation process, the level of education, depth of investment, industry and healthcare, then the Rif Mountains is still a deprived area. More than 60 percent of the money in Morocco is earned there, but it is not invested there. That annoys me."

In the year Mr Haji's was born, 1969, Morocco and the Netherlands reached an agreement on migration. Belgium, France, and Germany had already done so long before. The Moroccan government stimulated the migration of labour from the impoverished Rif Mountains to the wealthy European continent. Rabat hoped this would tame the rebellious region. As a result of the economic crisis in the 1970s, many of the Moroccan migrants did not return to the region. Many families followed the men. Today around three million Moroccans live outside the country, a large proportion of them born outside Morocco. In spite of the increasing integration there are substantial social problems surrounding the Moroccan community in these countries.

There are around a million Moroccans in France and roughly 380,000 in the Netherlands. There are also Moroccans in Spain, Germany, Italy, and in the Gulf States and North America nowadays as well. In total they send around 3.5 billion euros to their mother country via official channels every year, says Morocco researcher Paolo de Mas. Mr De Mas has been studying Morocco for more than 30 years and until recently was managing director of the Dutch Morocco Institute in Rabat. In addition another two billion euros come into the country in cash every year, he estimates.

Mr de Mas sees that the Rif Mountains has benefited little from the billions of euros that have come in from abroad. Banks may have opened branches in towns in the Rif Mountains, but they invest the money outside the region. Even migrant Moroccans do the same, says Mr de Mas:
"In the beginning they transfer money to their families, build them a new house in their village. That is always the first phase. Then they look to see whether they can do more to improve the standard of living. But once they have bought agricultural land and put in a few water wells, they invest their money in property such as hotels or apartments in the more prosperous parts of Morocco. The reality is that in the Rif Mountains for instance there is limited room for investment."

It is clear that the money from abroad is an important economic factor for the whole of the country. But according to Mr de Mas, the family abroad also has a huge influence culturally and politically:
"When you look at lifestyle, the migrant regions have undergone a complete transformation in the last forty years. Morocco has been bombarded by external ideas, norms and values. For example on the age of marriage, on sex, but also on democracy, consumption levels, music. It is impossible to separate the increasing fundamentalism or conservatism from the enormous financial, moral and psychological influence from the West."

In Rotterdam, councillor Fouad Haji is glad that Western ideas on democracy are getting through to the Rif Mountains. He thinks it's up to the people who live there to do something about their situation. He is critical, but optimistic.
"People now understand that they can put pressure on the authorities via the media and politics and by organising themselves and taking to the streets. They couldn't do that before. And they understand that they can exert pressure by withholding the money that is sent to them. That you can use it to put the regime under pressure."

* rnw translation (nc)

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