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Spain loses title as Moroccans' land of opportunity

Moroccans seeking economic opportunity used to flock to Spain, but with its economy tanking, Spain has less and less to offer them. 

By Correspondent / October 22, 2012



Tangier, Morocco

Anas Benhima spent over a decade building a new life in Spain: an education, friends, and a career. Then he left it all and returned home to Morocco

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“I saw my friends losing their jobs,” he says. “And I knew that eventually the same thing could happen to me.” 

Mr. Benhima, like an increasing number of Moroccan migrants, is giving up on his northern neighbor. For years Spain beckoned as a land of opportunity, but that image is now shattered by an economic crisis that has pushed unemployment there to nearly 25 percent.

For Morocco, Spain’s woes are part of larger troubles among European trading partners that have dented the Moroccan economy, too, as remittances and tourism revenue have sagged. For Spain, fading luster as a source of jobs underlines how deep its malaise has become.

Unemployment among Spain’s estimated 783,000 Moroccan workers is just over 50 percent – roughly twice the national rate, according to a report released in May on the effect of Spain’s crisis on Moroccan workers by Colectivo Ioé, a Spanish social affairs research institute. Data from Spain’s central bank indicates that remittances to Morocco fell by a third between 2007 and 2010.

Increasingly, Moroccans are giving Spain a pass. While illegal migration makes exact numbers murky, a net loss of Moroccan immigrants was registered in 2010. Last year that loss was nearly 22,000, according to Spain’s national statistics institute.

Coming full circle

Change is felt acutely in Moroccan cities like Tangier, where Spanish headlands are visible across the Strait of Gibraltar. For years Morocco’s north, a region formerly colonized by Spain, has relied on sending migrants there to help feed families at home.

Benhima grew up in Tetouan, once Spain’s colonial capital, where his father worked as a customs official. He went to Barcelona to study textile engineering in 1998, but financial concerns led him to dive into the job market instead.

“At first you work to pay for studies, but then you forget studies and just work,” he says.

He drove a golf cart by day and tossed pizzas at night, supporting himself while also helping cover medical bills for his father. He stayed in Spain for two uninterrupted years, until he got legal residency. Then, in 2000, he surprised his parents with a visit. His father died four days later.

Benhima’s mother and three siblings moved to Tangier, while he settled in Madrid. Using his ability to speak Spanish, French, English, and Arabic, he found work in 2001 handling overseas clients for an insurance company. The job put him in the top tier of Moroccans drawn by an economic boom in Spain. Moroccan arrivals peaked in 2005 at about 75,000, according to the Colectivo Ioé report.

Meanwhile in Tangier, Benhima’s mother, Badia Amrani, founded BAYSIM, a goods transit company, in 2006.

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