Asylum-seekers start hunger strike

A group of asylum-seekers from Africa and Asia have begun a hunger strike at a detention camp in southwestern Morocco in an attempt to gain refugee status from the UN.

    There are 275 people waiting to gain refugee status in Morocco

    The asylum-seekers started their strike on Sunday to get their status quickly recognised by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Moroccan Association of Human Rights (MAHR) said in a statement on Monday.

    The authorities in the city of Ghalmim said 71 illegal immigrants from the Ivory Coast, Congo, India and Bangladesh were on a hunger strike over the poor conditions of the military barracks where they have been held, as part of a group of 247 people, for the past two weeks.

    A UNHCR official in Rabat, Johannes Van der Klaauw, said they had sent the Moroccan authorities a list of 85 names of immigrants who are recognised by the HCR as asylum-seekers but had so far received no reply.

    "We have reason to believe that part of this group is in Ghalmim and we hope to go there. This request becomes even more urgent because of this hunger strike. For the moment, we have not received authorisation," Van der Klaauw said.
    Flood of applications

    However the HCR will be re-examining these cases "to make sure of the difference between economic immigrants and people who have fled for political reasons", he said.

    About 1700 applications for asylum have been received and more than 40 arrive each day at the HCR.
    "There is really a flood which doesn't allow us to quickly assess the cases and give refugee status to those who are entitled to it," the UNHCR representative said.

    "There is really a flood which doesn't allow us to quickly assess the cases and give refugee status to those who are entitled to it"

    Johannes Van der Klaauw,
    UNHCR official, Rabat

    Under the current process a person seeking refugee status is registered and must pass an interview.

    While waiting for the decision the person obtains a certificate valid for three months, but renewable, proving he is an asylum-seeker. There are currently 275 such people in Morocco.

    If rejected, there are 30 days in which to make an appeal and a new inquiry process is started. During this time the applicant is under the protection of the UNHCR and cannot be returned home.
    Meanwhile the Moroccan authorities said they had intercepted two boats carrying 64 illegal immigrants, heading for Spain, off the north coast of the North African country.



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