Kenitra, Morocco – A kindergarten called “Hope” operates in the middle of a residential neighbourhood 50km from Morocco’s capital, Rabat.
The name aptly describes the activities taking place inside the brightly coloured building in Kenitra. It is Morocco’s first refugee cooperative, run by a group of Yemenis who came to the country to study but could not go back because of the war in Yemen.
Morocco is home to about 7,500 refugees and asylum seekers from more than 50 countries. Syrians form the bulk of that group – more than 3,000 – but there are also about 700 Yemenis who have fled the three-year-old war.
Among them is Abdullah, who arrived in Morocco almost three years ago.
“The idea to open a school came during a brainstorming session between me and some other Yemeni PhD students here,” said Abdullah, who worked in the education sector in Yemen for a decade before leaving the country in order to follow his studies.
A high percentage of refugees and migrants, especially from sub-Saharan Africa who arrive in Morocco, want to carry on the journey and reach Europe.
In 2013, Morocco launched a migrant regularisation programme through which it has granted residency permits to more than 50,000 people in a move designed to change its image from that of a transit country to a host nation.
It also aimed to provide funding and assistance to those who want to launch their own projects.
“In 2015, Morocco was a transit country then it became progressively a destination country for part of the refugees,” said Bettina Gambert, the UN refugee agency’s deputy representative in Morocco.
“Since then, the refugees have started staying here longer. If they are registered and assisted here, they will stay.”