Cardinal denounces enslavement, violence against African migrants en route to Europe

migrants A migrant boat on the beach at Camposoto San Fernando Cádiz, Spain. | Credit: Shutterstock

Cardinal Cristóbal López Romero, the archbishop of Rabat, Morocco, and president of the Regional Episcopal Conference of Bishops of North Africa, denounced the violence perpetrated against migrants in various parts of Africa on their way to Europe, including enslavement: “There are children, adolescents who have been sold up to three times,” he decried.

In an Oct. 2 interview with ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, the archbishop of Rabat noted: “We see that there are more and more psychiatric problems, because the experiences they go through crossing the desert are so traumatic that it’s not surprising that an adolescent, a young man, even an adult is left with aftereffects.”

“We are talking about robberies, violence, rape, and being sold as slaves,” he said.

According to the Turkish news agency Anadolu, in the first half of 2023, the Moroccan authorities reported more than 25,000 attempts at illegal migration from their country to Europe. In addition, in the last five years there have been approximately 366,000 attempts at illegal migration from the North African country.

The National Institute of Statistics of Spain reported in August that 21,500 Moroccan immigrants had entered the country during the first half of the year, although the study does not specify whether or not they did so illegally.

According to the Missing Migrant Project of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), “the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is an important region of origin, transit, and destination for people who go through some of the deadliest migratory routes in the world.”

López, who is also president of Caritas Morocco, explained that for the charitable work of the Church, they are focusing on three types of people. The first group is “the sick,” whom they try to “accompany with the necessary care, not only administered directly but through the Moroccan Public Health System.”

Morocco, he noted, “has put all its health facilities at the service of migrants free of charge.”

The second priority attention group is “pregnant women or women with babies,” while the third is made up of “unaccompanied or poorly accompanied minors under 18 years of age.”

“We have found children ages 12 to 14 who come alone and have crossed the desert with other adults. And they arrive in Morocco and stay there for weeks, months, years, because it’s not easy to make the passage to Europe,” López explained.

The archbishop of Rabat also highlighted that migrants who arrive in Morocco are offered vocational and job training so they can find work upon arriving in Europe. In addition, they welcome them, listen to them, provide legal guidance, and give them medical care.

“There are various services depending on the city you’re in. For example, in Rabat there’s no lodging, but in Casablanca minors are taken in, especially those who are sick,” he noted.

The cardinal also emphasized that the Church is in constant communication with humanitarian aid civil organizations in Europe.

“Everything we do in Morocco is financed through Caritas in Spain, Italy, France, Germany, and there are meetings of people who work in this area of migration in the Northern Mediterranean and the Southern Mediterranean. There are periodic meetings, in person and virtual, to reach agreements and exchange experiences.”

Another of their tasks is to raise awareness among the governments of the countries from which migrants leave so that they carry out information campaigns about what their fellow citizens suffer when they embark on what is known regionally as “the adventure.”

“Many people arrive in Morocco who didn’t dream of what they were going to suffer while crossing the desert on the journey to North Africa. We have even discovered young people and children who didn’t know that they had to cross a sea to reach Europe,” he said.

The cardinal pointed out that the phenomenon of migration is not a problem in itself: “The problems are war, political persecution, hunger, economic inequalities, lack of work. The effects are that people leave their country because they don’t find decent living conditions there.”

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To bring about this change, he proposed that they work to transform the economic system, so that developing countries can move quickly toward a situation that allows them to offer all their citizens a decent life.

“People who are forced to emigrate should be a wake-up call,” he said. “Something is going wrong in our world for these migrations to be taking place on all continents.”

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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