Reminiscing a Border Now Closed
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Guest post by Anitta Kynsilehto and Hassane Ammari. Anitta holds an Academy of Finland Postdoctoral Fellowship (2015–2018) for a project titled ‘Everyday politics of solidarity: Undocumented mobilities in Europe and the Mediterranean’ and works at the Tampere Peace Research Institute. She is the author of Choreographies of Resistance: Mobile Bodies and Relational Politics (with Tarja Väyrynen, Eeva Puumala, Samu Pehkonen and Tiina Vaittinen; Rowman & Littlefield, 2017) and Gender and Mobility: A Critical Introduction (with Elina Penttinen, Rowman & Littlefield, forthcoming June 2017). Hassane is a long-term migrants’ rights activist based in Oujda, Morocco, who has engaged with people passing through or staying in the region Oriental in the North-East of Morocco for the past twenty years. He contributes to the work of several national and international non-governmental organisations and coordinates the work of Watch the Med – Alarme Phone in the North-East of Morocco. This is the eighth instalment of Border Criminologies’ themed series on ‘The Memory Politics of Migration at Borderscapes’, organised by Karina Horsti.
Hassane, a human rights activist based in Oujda, Morocco, stands on the road leading to the closed border post on the Algerian side of the Algeria-Morocco border. This border post is located a few kilometres outside the town of Maghnia. ‘It’s touching to see this place again. I remember this place full of cafés and restaurants, and how, in the early 1990s, we used to come to spend an afternoon or an evening here, and go back to Oujda for the night. It was a lively place back then.’ Now the place is occupied only by a military casern and its personnel. Instead of driving the 15 kilometres between Oujda and Maghnia, Hassane had to fly via Paris, France, to the city of Tlemcen in Algeria to have his passport stamped at an official border crossing, then travel some sixty kilometres by car to reach this place. This is one example of how the closure of the land border between Algeria and Morocco renders everyday exchanges difficult across this border.
In this post we focus on the border between Algeria and Morocco, officially closed since 1994, as viewed from the perspective of residents in this area, and those who have sought to use it as passage for their mundane matters. We draw on exchanges with them on the experiences of migrants crossing the border and residing on either side of it, and their (lack of) access to their rights to asylum, accommodation, health, training and work. The already sealed border has been fortified with a barbed wire fence on the Moroccan side and a ditch on the Algerian side, the construction of which began in January 2015. We explore the impact of enhanced border controls on nationals from both countries.
The enhanced border infrastructure has slowed down smuggling activities significantly in the region. Previously, Algerian petrol and cigarettes, and consumer goods such as kitchenware imported from Russia or Turkey to Algeria were smuggled to Morocco. Since 2016 these have not been as freely available on the Moroccan side of the border. This has changed the landscape in the margins of Oujda, with fewer petrol sellers holding their stands along the roads, and increased the price of everyday essentials for inhabitants.
As well as affecting smuggling activities, this also influences the lives of migrants and citizens, who seek to pass from one country to the other. The region of Oriental in the North-East of Morocco used to be a passage for Moroccan workers travelling to Algerian cities or all the way to Libya. Travel on land, by bus or collective taxis, was much cheaper than airfares, which necessitated a journey by the Atlantic coast of Morocco or via a European airport. ‘When, in 1992, I was doing my licentiate on dictionaries of Berber language at the University in Oujda, I spent considerable time doing research in libraries in Algeria, in Oran and Algiers,’ Hassane notes. ‘Also books are in general much cheaper there than in Morocco. It has become much more difficult and costly for students in this regard.’ Present day migrant workers can no longer afford as many family visits as they could when it was possible to cross the land border.
Before 2015, crossing the border informally cost between 10 and 30 euros. Since then, the price has skyrocketed such that for weeks nobody was able to cross. Following some protests against the high prices, some informal doors locked by a padlock were opened to the barbed wire fence to facilitate the passage of family members. However, authorities have discretion whether to allow this to happen, leading to forms of corruption.
There are several transnational families in the region living on both sides of the closed border, some of whom cultivate farmland extending to both countries. In other areas, the fence was cut through farmland altogether, not even following the borderline. Transnational marriages over decennia also contribute to people having their original identity documents on the wrong side of the border. Creativity is needed to manage these issues and to avoid having problems with the authorities. ‘Once I received a call from an elderly lady, an Algerian national but who had been born in Oujda, Morocco. She wanted to do the pilgrimage and needed her original birth certificates for travelling. These papers were in Oujda. So I went to get them for her and we arranged a meeting at the border in Saidia, by the Mediterranean coast, where she was waiting for me on the Algerian side. On that occasion, the border guards helped us: I gave her papers to the Moroccan guards who then passed them on to the Algerian guards, and further on to this lady.’
Hassane argues that both states should commit to allowing ‘humanitarian visits’, at least on an exceptional basis. This kind of framework could cover cases such as attending to the sick, taking part in funerals on the other side of the border, and celebrating weddings together. Why should ordinary citizens suffer so much for the obstinacy of both states to keep the border closed?
How to cite this blog post (Harvard style)
Kynsilehto, A. and Ammari, H. (2017) Reminiscing a Border Now Closed. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2017/06/reminiscing (Accessed [date])