It takes little effort to search the world and find suffering. It presents itself in plain sight and in bold fonts on the front pages of newspapers and magazines across the world and in flashes across t.v. screens nightly. Images of war-torn towns, footage of grotesque police misconduct, and symbols of extreme malnutrition and illness riddle our collective lines of sight daily, even for those of us who live far from and free of the worlds’ most gratuitous forms of suffering.
But in hidden pockets of the hills in Northern Morocco, African refugees (or legally, migrants until they are granted their desired recognized status of “refugee”) suffer in places far beyond the gaze and protection of the consciences of Western populations and laws. Congregated in hopes of overwhelming the force of the militarized Spanish guard that polices the twenty-foot fences that stand between migrants in Morocco and potential asylum within the European Union with sheer volume, these refugees from throughout Africa experience an unintelligible and unrecognized suffering. It is viscerally more than just the burden of homelessness, fear of physical and emotional violence, and heightened risks of illness, starvation, and death. Beyond that, what remains most striking about the suffering experienced in the enclaves of refugees hoping to cross the Moroccan border is its cohabitation with hope and vibrant expressions of human spirit – how in sites of absolute despair and loss, it is hope (and maybe hope alone) that fuels groups of people to band together and invest in a shared dream of someone, anyone, finding their way to something better.
When we first spoke in class about the refugee crossings in Morocco, I was struck by the sparseness of cause for hope. When reading “The Crossing,” the reality of that hopelessness became more apparent. Not only do refugees face the ubiquitous threat of violence, discrimination, and physical illness and exhaustion, they also face the foreclosure of all imaginable possibilities for situational improvement. Incapable of finding work or shelter within Morocco, and unable to either return home or move forwards in the absence of the financial means to do so, these refugees inhabit a state that appears hardly transitory at all. Morocco, a supposed sight of crossing, seems more than anything to be an irrefutable dead end.
Yet with little hope for finding legal protection under any domestic or international code of law, a source of compassionate aid from any local or international body, or just a bout of honest luck from the universe, it is hope that somehow still seems to eclipse the overwhelmingly visible suffering of these refugees to propel a shared dream of crossing into somewhere “better.” What I find most remarkable about these young boys who constitute Morocco’s migrant population is not the weight of the aggregate pain they have experienced, but the resilience of their belief in something better. How, when such little evidence exists that better things will come, is it that people who have nothing to ground their hope in still summon the strength to believe there is an end to their pain. Or perhaps more pressingly, what happens if that hope is lost? In the absence of material aid or sustenance, hope appears to be the most valuable possession these boys have. For people who have lost their communities, families, livelihoods, identities, and sense of security, it is morale – not food or shelter – that seems most vital to survival.