African emigrants are defying a campaign by Morocco to keep them away from land and sea crossings to Spain, which has become the main entry point to Europe for migrants and refugees following crackdowns elsewhere.
Moroccan police conduct regular raids of areas popular with people from elsewhere in Africa and have bussed thousands to the other end of the country since 800 people stormed a fence to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in northern Morocco in July.
The transports drew criticism from human rights groups after two men from Mali died en route and Reuters has found that many people have simply returned, hiding in forests or back streets of the main city of Tangier and planning their escape to Spain.
“We came to Morocco to stay in the north until the time was right to force our way through the Ceuta fence. We have no other choice,” said Aboubakar, a 25-year-old sociology graduate from Guinea who withheld his surname for fear of repercussions.
His account and those of his companions sleeping in a forest overlooking the poor Tangier neighborhood of Mesnana show how hard it is to stop people who are determined to cross to Europe.
The number of people fleeing war or poverty in Africa, the Middle East and Asia who cross to the European Union has dropped to about 80,000 this year from more than a million in 2015, but the issue is divisive and has bolstered far-right and other anti-establishment groups.