Senegalese migrant Ismail (26) is back in forests around the northern Moroccan port of Tangier, not long after being stopped by authorities and bussed hundreds of kilometres south to stop him reaching Europe.
His desire to reach Spain is unrelenting and the cat-and-mouse game with authorities continues.
Last year Morocco became the main departure point for migrants to Europe, overtaking Libya where the coast guard prevents departures with help from the European Union.
Morocco is only 14 km south of the Spanish coast and shares land borders with the Spanish enclaves Melilla and Ceuta on its northern coast. They are surrounded by a 6m high fence topped with razor wire.
Under a new crackdown, authorities are sending undocumented migrants to southern towns, far from land and sea borders with Spain. They also clear migrant camps in forests and halt sale of dinghies and inflatables.
According to official figures as of May the country stopped 30,000 people illegally crossing to Spain this year and shut down 60 migrant trafficking networks.
Authorities say the clampdown on traffickers saw migrant arrivals from Morocco to Spain drop in the first six months of 2019 to 12,053 from 26,890 in the same period last year, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
Morocco is about to complete a new 3m high fence in its own territory around Ceuta to deter crossings, according to nearby residents.
“Authorities conduct surprise raids to comb forests looking for us, so we sleep where we can anticipate their arrival and run before they catch us and send us south again,” said Ismail.
He and other migrants live from begging and wait fora chance to jump the fence surrounding Ceuta.
“We do not have 3000 euros ($3,360) to pay smugglers for a sea crossing to Spain,” Ismail added.
He made his way back north hiding even deeper in forests and avoiding streets by daylight.
“Our brothers who crossed to Spain now have a good life,” said Ibrahim from Guinea Conackry, showing scars on his hand from a failed attempt to jump the fence last year.
The displacement campaign drew criticism from rights groups including ASCOMS, a coalition of 27 Sub-Saharan civil society NGOs.
Authorities take migrants south to protect them from smugglers and prevent migrants storming the Ceuta and Melilla borders.
As crossing to Europe becomes more difficult, Africans now decide to stay in Morocco and seek work, benefiting from a 2013 legalisation policy.
Over 50,000 migrants, 75% from Sub-Saharan Africa, obtained residency cards since 2013, according to official figures.
After five years in Morocco, Sonya (35) from Cameroon, gave up on reaching Europe. She now sees in Morocco a home for her and her daughter Salma, who attends a local school.
Sonya is taking a training course with a local NGO, hoping to boost chances of finding employment. Work is not easy to find in an economy where informal labour abounds and the unemployment rate stands at 10%, with one in four young people jobless.
Ahmed Skim from Morocco’s migration ministry said state agencies could help migrants find work with about 400 employed in the private sector. Moroccan schools received migrant children 5,54 in 2018, while Moroccan hospitals treated 23,000 migrants.
Most migrants work in the informal sector at low-paid jobs shunned by Moroccans.
The President of Tangier region, Ilyas El Omari, urged the EU to help Morocco and his region integrate migrants by training programmes and investment to create jobs and avoid tension between locals and migrants.
The EU promised last year to give 140 million euros in border management aid to Morocco.
For Ismail, only Spain will do.
“I want to go to Europe for better living standards and better jobs. Salaries are not good here,” he said.
“We are exhausted, but will continue trying to reach Spain.”