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Living rough in Europe's 'waiting room'

Thousands of illegal migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa are braving cold and wet nights in Moroccan forests in the hope of getting to Europe. The forests near Rahrah are only about 30 kilometres (19 miles) from Spain and when the weather is clear, the European mainland can easily be seen from the top of a hill.

But trips across the rough Mediterranean sea aboard inflatable boats are very risky. Some 4,000 migrants have drowned in the past five years trying to get into Spain.

No guarantees

The migrants pay between $500 and $1,500 to people traffickers, known as "samsara", to get to Europe. In some cases the price can be doubled with no guarantee of arriving alive. Spain (in background) is the 'Eldorado' The forests in the north have now become a "waiting room" for some Africans to get to the "European Eldorado".

But now the Moroccan security forces are cracking down on the migrants living in the shacks. Hundreds of them have been sent back to the Algerian border where they entered Morocco after trekking across the Sahara desert.

And some 1,500 Nigerians have been repatriated in a joint exercise between the Moroccan and Nigerian authorities. As a result of the crack-down, the migrants are now taking cover in deeper parts of the forests.

To get in touch with them, we needed a guide who is familiar with all corners of the forest.

Cellular phones

Excellent persuasive powers are vital too, to convince the guards that we did not have ulterior motives. The first man we bumped into dismissed us. Have you visited the camp to see how we live like animals hunting for something to eat?

Richard from Nigeria "There have been several foreigners who have told us they are journalists and afterwards told the security forces where we are staying," he accused.

News of our visit to the forest spread rapidly, thanks to cellular phones, which the migrants' guards use to report danger. But not all migrants live in the shacks - those with money rent small houses from the local community.

Cooking soup

Here compared to those in the forests, they live lavishly. A group we met here, had bought some beers and prepared a home-made speciality of roasted chicken.

Morocco has started expelling illegal immigrants Charles sports a beard and dreadlocks, and he had worked for seven years in Libya before he came to Morocco on a mission to cross the Straits of Gibraltar.

After half an hour's walk on a path wriggling along the slope of the mountain, a camp came into view. During the march we met several migrants on the way to the shop for some supplies. Several were relaxing on a piece of cardboard.

Small tents were fixed between the trees. In the distance, a woman was cooking soup on an open fire, while others were talking loudly.

Pregnant

"Have you visited the camp to see how we live like animals hunting for something to eat?" asks Richard, a young man from Nigeria.

Priscilla hopes to reach Europe before she gives birth He alleged that the Moroccan security forces are very brutal, punching and kicking any migrants they catch.

At times they also rape women during their operations to flush out illegal immigrants, he said. His claims are promptly supported by his colleagues who all have tales about their nasty experiences of the security forces.

"Look at my back," says one. "Honestly, I can't understand why the Moroccan authorities treat us this way," says a Ghanaian who is desperate to cross to Europe.

Priscilla, a teenager, is five months pregnant but refuses to leave the forests to consult a doctor because she is scared of being arrested.

She only hopes that she will make it across the Straits of Gibraltar before she gives birth.

Written by Ola Sletten, Rahrah, northern Morocco

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