UN refugee agency’s Morocco office re-opens after sit-in
A sit-in by Congolese refugees demanding financial assistance from the Rabat office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has ended peacefully, allowing the facility to re-open, a spokesperson for the agency said today.
Late Thursday night, demonstrators were peacefully dispersed by Moroccan police, who were called in by UNHCR after negotiations failed to end the sit-in, Jennifer Pagonis told reporters today in Geneva, where the agency is headquartered.
“The demonstration – preceded by a violent incident at our office – had led UNHCR to temporarily close its office, bringing to a halt all UNHCR’s protection and assistance activities for refugees in Morocco,” she said.
The refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) had violently entered UNHCR’s office in Rabat on 18 May, injuring two security guards. “They then staged a sit-in in front of our office, claiming a right to regular monthly financial assistance from us for all refugees in Morocco, saying their insecure status as refugees did not allow them to live in dignified conditions,” said Ms. Pagonis.
The agency maintained that it was ready to further develop its dialogue with the refugee community about their various concerns and help find better solutions to their plight as soon as the situation in front of the office returned to normal.
“We also highlighted that the use of violence is unacceptable and that refugees – like other citizens – have to respect national law and order,” said Ms. Pagonis.
Refugees in Morocco are living in precarious conditions as they are not formally recognized by the authorities and have no temporary residence permit, according to the agency. As a result, they have no formal access to the labour market or to basic services.
UNHCR is helping refugees to get a better secured legal status and improve their socio-economic well being, emphasizing self-reliance. “A number of refugees are benefiting from vocational skills training, micro-projects and other income-generating activities,” Ms Pagonis said. “Refugee children can now be enrolled in public schools and access to medical care for refugees is ensured through organizations in the public health sector.”
The agency has no budgetary means to provide individual financial assistance in an open-ended manner, she noted.
UNHCR’s Rabat office has registered some 600 refugees and 1,000 asylum seekers, mainly from the DRC, Côte d’Ivoire, Iraq, Sierra Leone and Liberia.