Amy Lukak: A story of the integration of immigrants into Moroccan society
Sanaa Kouiti — Rabat
In the working-class Nahda neighbourhood of Rabat, Amy Lukak, a Congolese immigrant, lives with her two children, Julian and Latifa Rita. Behind her wide smile, the 30-year-old woman conceals a sad tale of a struggling mother who crossed cities, forests and deserts, fleeing the turbulent conditions in her country.
Since her arrival in Morocco in 2008, Lukak has been through difficult times. She moved from one job to another to support her family until she was able to settle her legal status in 2014 and enrol her children in a public school near her home.
Morocco launched a new immigration policy at the end of 2013, granting legal residency to thousands of undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers.
Morocco’s strategy includes facilitating the integration of immigrants into education, health services and the labour sectors while providing them with legal and humanitarian assistance.
Official data shows that applications for settlement were approved for more than 43,000 out of 56,000 immigrants in two phases — in 2014 and at the end of 2016.
From immigrant to activist
“I did not choose to immigrate to Morocco. Departure from my country was not part of my plans.”
With these words, Lukak started telling Al Jazeera the story of her escape. After a coup in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 2008, her husband, who worked with the former president, was killed and she was no longer safe.
Lukak took Julian, then a little baby, and her money, and clandestinely left the country, heading to Algeria in the hopes of finding a job and a safe and stable life.
After a month in Algeria, she decided to join a group of immigrants, and crossed the land border between Oran in Algeria and Morocco’s Oujda on foot.
In her home, where she sat with Al Jazeera, Lukak recalls her journey in a detached manner — as if it were someone else’s story. Her expressions suggested the words are incapable of reflecting the reality of the pain she endured during her arduous journey.
Lukak was able to visit her family in the DRC for the first time after more than 10 years of separation through a professional childcare training programme that she participated in after settling her legal status. Today, she is devoting her experience and expertise as a civil society activist to helping new immigrants integrate into Moroccan society.
Although she thinks the situation of immigrants in Morocco has improved, Lukak cannot hide her resentment towards Moroccans’ intolerance of their presence.
She stopped talking for a moment, as if she were trying to digest painful memories. She then recounted the feelings of oppression she experienced the day her daughter returned from school in tears after her classmate refused to hold her hand because she is an immigrant with dark skin.
Lukak, who was elected last year as head of the Congolese community in Morocco, regrets that efforts to settle the legal status of sub-Saharan immigrants are not matched by a feeling of community acceptance and coexistence.
She says some Moroccans see immigrants as competitors in the labour market, even though their numbers are minuscule as a percentage of the larger population. She believes they are treated in a discriminatory manner compared with immigrants from other countries. In her view, immigrants do not take away anyone’s opportunities. “We need to talk openly with people about immigration,” she adds.
The presence of immigrants has become commonplace in Moroccan cities, especially in Rabat, Casablanca, and the east.
Most immigrants work in trade, often displaying their goods on sidewalks, while others earn a living in construction, carpentry workshops and other handicrafts.
Lukak’s children, Julian and Latifa Rita, are studying in public schools. According to official data released by the Ministry of Education representing the last school year, there are 4,000 children of immigrants and refugees enrolled in formal education and about 350 in informal education.
Immigrant students face difficulties integrating into the educational system because of their poor proficiency in Arabic, the language of instruction. This reality prompted a number of associations to organise remedial classes for immigrants in order to enable them to keep up with their peers.
According to the data from the Ministry of Education, programmes for the educational integration of immigrants have been developed. Textbooks were revised to include guidance on the values of tolerance, solidarity and equality, taking into account cultural diversity in terms of names, skin colour and ethnicities in school activities.
The Ministry of Health recently unveiled a national strategic plan for the health of immigrants. It was announced in Parliament and extends to 2025. In 2015, an agreement was signed with the Ministry of Immigration, seeking to benefit immigrants from all treatments provided by the Ramid Card — the medical assistance system for poor and vulnerable groups — whether they are documented or even without a residency permit.
The measures announced by the authorities to integrate immigrants into society have not convinced human rights and civil society activists. They denounce continuing abuses, violence and discrimination against immigrants, especially those of sub-Saharan African origin.
According to Khadija El Ainani, a member of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights who is responsible for immigration, the legal settlement of the status of immigrants did not guarantee them social and economic rights and did not protect them from deportation to the border.
She notes that some schools refuse to receive immigrant children on the grounds that they do not know Arabic or because of the lack of some documents, while their access to health services remains difficult. The government has limited this access to seasonal medical campaigns targeting immigrants. According to El Ainani, the system of medical assistance proposed by the authorities to immigrants already suffers from structural imbalances, about which Moroccans themselves complain.
Immigrants also face many obstacles in finding work because of what El Ainani describes as the prevailing chaos in the private sector and the limited labour market capacity in Morocco.
According to a report by the Economic, Social and Environmental Council, a governmental organisation, some of these immigrants work in the formal sector, particularly in the services sector, while others operate in subsistence activities in the informal sector.
According to El Ainani, this situation has forced immigrants with a residency permit to risk their lives venturing across the Mediterranean to reach Europe in search of a better life.
Lukak refuses to take that adventure and has decided that Morocco will be her last stop.
After 11 years in the kingdom, during which she gave birth to her younger child, this immigrant seems happy with her new life despite the daily difficulties she faces. She hopes that the coming years will bring a better future to her two children.
Source: Al Jazeera (Original Content -Arabic)