Thousands of people who had immigrated to EU countries have started to return home to Morocco after losing their jobs as a result of the economic and financial crisis plaguing the euro zone.
Some of these expatriates spent decades building the European economy only to return to their parents empty-handed. Previously, they had been a source of hard currency for both their families and the local economy.
As opposed to previous years, this summer trip will mean a one-way ticket from the north to the south of the Mediterranean Sea, and no gifts will be brought back. Those returning will no longer indulge in extravagance or enjoy a feeling of social superiority among those in their homeland. This year, immigrants will be burdened with sadness and regret over the things they will never have again.
The economic crisis is on the tongues of the majority of the returning immigrants successively arriving in Morocco, loaded with what is left of their savings, memories and documents.
According to preliminary estimates, roughly half of the 800,000 Moroccan migrants (mostly from the north of Morocco) who work in Spain have lost their jobs and are considering a permanent return to their home country. This is due to the deteriorating economic and social situation in Spain.
The Spanish government will offer financial compensation to those leaving the country if they forfeit their residence cards. Statistics show that about 100,000 people have declared their desire to voluntarily leave the country. Most of these people had been working in construction, tourism and agriculture, and some of them were left unable to pay their home loan bills.
Analysts say that Spain is facing three crises; the first crisis is the sovereign debt crisis — Spain’s public debt exceeds 100 percent of GDP. Second, there is the crisis of the banks' liquidity, which is associated with the collapse of the real estate and construction sector. Finally, there is an economic crisis, which is a result of the increasing budget deficit, shrinking growth, rising unemployment and widespread poverty.
The situation in Italy does not differ greatly from that of Spain. Thirty percent of immigrants have thus far lost their jobs because of the crisis. Foremost among these are Moroccans — the first non-European community in Italy. They are facing problems rooted in the public debt, declining economic growth, increasing unemployment and a rise in the number of people requesting social aid.
In the marketplaces of bin Saleh al-Faqih (200 km east of Casablanca), goods that have been smuggled from Italy are being sold. They are being brought in by returning immigrants who lost their jobs and decided to sell these goods on the street.
Expatriates remittances from Italy constitute a large portion of this agricultural area’s livelihood. Italy is the third-largest source of remittances to Morocco, after France and the Benelux countries (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg).
Immigrants criticize the Moroccan government for poorly addressing their situation. They have also demanded that their government undertake local commercial and industrial projects that would allow them to make use of the expertise that they gained abroad.
According to Foreign Exchange Office statistics, remittances from Europe reached 18 billion Moroccan dirhams ($2 billion) in the first four months of this year — a 5 percent increase compared to last year.
Some sources believe that the crisis has a social aspect, and not just a financial one. France, which is the source of 63 percent of the total remittances sent to Morocco, has not been affected in the same way as Spain. Spain is the source of just 11 percent of total remittances to Morocco, despite the rise in the number of immigrants who use their savings to buy Spanish products to be re-sold in northern Morocco.
Sources in the financial sector fear that the crisis will extend to the rest of the roughly 4 million Moroccan immigrants in Europe who first arrived during World War II. Remittances from this group are the largest source of currency entering the country after tourism and foreign investments. These sources help to cover the trade deficit, which reached roughly $20 billion last year.
Should the crisis drag on, Rabat will be forced to resort to spending its reserves in the Central Bank. This will threaten its ability to finance its foreign trade, since its reserves were only able to finance five months of imports during the first half of this year.
Moroccan Stock Market
According to sources in the Casablanca Stock Exchange, immigrants lost about 19 billion MAD ($2 billion) of their investments in the Moroccan stock exchange last year due to the decline of stock prices. Their losses were estimated to be about 30 percent of the stock market’s total losses, which amounted to 63 billion MAD ($6 billion).
Investments by non-residents account for 29 percent of the Stock Exchange’s market value, which is estimated at 148 billion MAD (US $17.4 billion). On the other hand, Moroccan investments and deposits in Europe are estimated at $40 billion.