This is an overdue article. I wrote this to raise awareness about the current condition of Filipino workers in Morocco. Few thousand Filipinos do exist in this northern part of Africa. What are their struggles before, during, and after lockdown? I want their families way back home to realize that life here isn’t sugar sweet. Behind those smiles you see during the video calls or photos posted over Facebook or Instagram is a story of sacrifice. They have this dream that someday they will go home and be reunited with their families.
It all started in Chefchaouen a few days after we arrived in Morocco with my Filipina friend from Manila. We never thought of developing pandemic in the coming weeks. Lucky for her, she got back to the Philippines before lockdown on 20th of March. While walking along the cobbled streets of Chaouen shortly after lunch, kids inside the school bus shouted “corona” virus to my friend. I immediately rolled my camera and took a video. The kids suddenly stopped when they noticed me.
It was on the 2nd of March when the first confirmed COVID-19 case in Morocco was detected in Casablanca when a Moroccan expatriate arrived from Bergamo, Italy. A month after it was still controllable with a confirmed 654 cases then, on May 5, it recorded 5219 cases with 1838 recoveries and 181 deaths. It was on June 6 when a remarkable recovery of 7278 out of 8123 cases. The kingdom decided to relax and opened some shops, hotels, beaches on June 25. The lockdown was re-extended 4 times. The health authorities made an excellent intervention in combatting the spread of the virus. Like in some countries, there are also violators such as movement without mobilization paper or not wearing a mask.
07.03.2020. Marjane Marrakech. Guys went out of the elevator after seeing my Chinese-looking friends
14.03.2020. Panic buying at supermarkets like Marjane, Aswak Assalam, Carrefour, and BIM.
15.03.2020. Lockdown of airports. Canceled flights to EU countries. COVID-19 cases: 28
16.03.2020. Restaurants, cafes, gyms, and hammams closed starting 18h00. COVID-19 cases: 37
20.03.2020. Morocco under the state of calamity starting 18h00 today. Went to the supermarket and noticed that some of the shelves are almost empty. The long lines at the cashier.
12.05.2020. Ministry of Education cancels all student exams except Baccalaureate tests.
18.05.2020. Re-extension of lockdown till June 10 announced by Head of Government Saad Eddine El Othmani.
29.05.2020. Restaurants and cafes started to open for takeout and delivery.
09.06.2020. Re-extension of lockdown till July 10 announced by Head of Government Saad Eddine El Othmani.
24.06.2020. Rabat and Casablanca shifted to Zone 1. It means people can go out without mobilization paper. Mask is still mandatory.
10.07.2020. State of Health Emergency re-extended for the 4th time till August 10.
15.07.2020. International borders are open for Moroccans and foreign residents with valid carte de sejour, tourists aren’t allowed to enter Morocco yet.
I couldn’t sleep thinking of my fellow Filipinos here in Morocco. This is not my responsibility but we are ought to help. Few days after I signified my intention of organizing a relief effort to displaced Filipino workers in Morocco, I received positive results from Filipino friends in Morocco.
It all started 2 weeks after the lockdown when all my thoughts are with displaced Filipino workers in Morocco. I spoke with my Moroccan friend about the situation and surprisingly, he donated a few hundred dirhams. Combining it with the donation of my 2 friends and their employer, we were able to come up with a fund enough to help some families in Takadoum. That’s how we started a small relief effort for Quartier Takadoum in Rabat. It’s one of the most Filipino concentrated areas in Rabat. Many issues I had encountered before, during, and after the distribution. But it was fun. The most challenging part was how to reach out. Finally, I sent the money to one of the residents there and they bought food in supermarkets for distribution. I will not detail every single problem I had encountered. I discovered horrifying stories from those Filipinos working here but they still opted to stay here. If they go back to the Philippines, they will be jobless anyway. Some of them didn’t even see their families for 7-8 years. Some just opted to stay in Morocco and monetized their plane tickets just to have something to send to their families.
More and more Filipinos offered help. It continued until the end of June. I am forever grateful for all the help and financial support from my Moroccan and Filipino friends in Morocco, Philippines, Luxembourg, Spain, and Brazil. I am forever thankful for generosity! Likewise, I also want to express my heartfelt gratitude to all the volunteers in Rabat and Marrakech. I will not mention them one by one. Good karma is coming along the way! The small project was a success.
The last batch for Temara was distributed on June 16, 2020. The big question was: what will happen to them after that? Lucky for those who qualified for monthly financial assistance of 2000 MAD (200 €) from CNSS. Lately, more Filipinos are back to their normal lives, they were able to return from their respective jobs.
FILIPINO STORIES IN MOROCCO
Who are Filipinos in Morocco? What do they do in Morocco? My wife and I had been living here for almost 2 years now and I met a lot of Filipinos across the country while traveling. You’ll never imagine there’s Filipino working even at the farthest city or region of Morocco. They work as an architect, teachers, accounting staff, duty-free shop staff, travel and tour staff, hotel staff, pastry chef, cake decorator, sushi chef, carpenter, salon staff, massage therapist, household service workers, cook, nanny, butler, cleaner, gardener, restaurant server, electrician, painter, shop manager, and so on.
In the last few months I came across common horrific stories some Filipinos had experienced here. This is not just happening in Morocco but in other countries as well. These Filipino workers who gamble here in Morocco as tourists and overstayed so they were left without a choice of working and accepting jobs which is most of the time they were abused by their employers creating mental torture and trauma. Some of them escaped without a passport since their agency or employer keep it as a guarantee that they’ll not leave the premises. So I chose 2 horrible stories from Filipinas who were able to escape from abuse. Their names were changed for privacy purposes.
Angela. A victim of human trafficking, she struggled so hard just to support her 3 children in Manila. She arrived here in Morocco on December 1, 2013, together with other 4 Filipinas with a promise of working as a household service workers. Among them all, she has the smallest salary amounting to 200 US$ a month, the worst-case as she got nothing when her employer traveled to the US and left her at the house working without salary. The time came when she was sold to another employer by her fake employment agency for 20,000 MAD so she was passed into another employer and worked as a nanny. Their agreement was to take care of one kid, unfortunately, when she got to her new employer, it was 3. 1 infant, 3 and 5 years old. Again, she was doing an all-around job of cleaning, cooking, and taking care of the kids for 400 US$ salary. She barely sleeps and exhausted all the time so she complained. What she received was cursed and was shouted “you are still lucky, you still sleep! She lasted for more than a year. One time, they had a heated argument when Angela accidentally burned the silk gown she was pressing. She received all the scary words in the world. The following day, she decided to escape without anything but her cellular phone when everybody was asleep. It was a success. Her male employer pleaded for her to come back but she never did. With help from her friends, she temporarily harbored from her friends until she recovered and got a server job in a restaurant in Casablanca with a salary of 300US$. From then on, she moved from one place to another searching for a better job. Her last one was in a salon. Again, she was promised an annual vacation but it never happened since they don’t have a work contract. Her husband died and she never saw him for the last time.
Preciosa. Being an OFW since 1990, she first came to Morocco in 2009 with a valid work contract. She never had pay for the first 3 months of her work but she survived it without sending remittance to her family. She escaped from her employer after 2 years of working as a household service worker in Rabat. She can’t endure the inhumane treatment from her employer where she’s not included with the food budget and forced to eat the leftover. The worst part was she didn’t receive her salary for a year and always treated as a prisoner during the day when her employer goes to work. One day, when her employers were out of the country for business, she successfully escaped with only 5Dhs in her pocket. She took a bus to medina just to be away from her employer. Luckily, there was a Filipina that adopted her and gave her a job in a salon. A few months after, while going home from work, she was unlucky to be spotted by her previous employer and she was dragged inside the car. God forbids, there were police within the vicinity and she was saved after she explained the situation to the police. She was able to retrieve her passport with the help of the police. That’s the start of her long journey in Morocco.
MY ADVICE TO FILIPINOS AND TO THEIR FAMILIES
For Filipinos here in Morocco, stop the crab mentality and help each other instead. Save a bit for yourself and for emergency situations like this. Don’t buy unnecessary things. We don’t know if there will be another pandemic coming so it’s better to prepare financially. This is inevitable. When planning to escape from your abusive employers, prepare, and plan very well. Memorize contact numbers of your trusted friends. Be proud of what you are doing, you have a decent job. To the families in the Philippines, always check your family member here. Don’t just wait for their monthly remittance and don’t demand too much. A simple message will make their morale high.
- You appreciate and value small things. You talk a walk like a privilege and not a right.
- You begin to think of other people. This drove me to organize relief efforts for Filipinos in Morocco.
- You become resourceful. Recycle fava beans pods. Instead of throwing it, you can still cook it. Anything that you can still utilize, you’ll use it.
- You become creative. Thinking of what to cook for the day was the most difficult part.