In Pictures: Migrant women survive at the gates of Europe

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Sylvi arrived in Morocco after a weeks-long journey via the Niger desert, considered one of the most dangerous routes for sub-Saharan migrants and refugees who want to reach Europe. She had fled Cameroon, where she faced gender-based violence.

Sylvi says making that journey was far less daunting than the reality she now faces in the North African country after her boat to Europe was stopped before it could cross the Strait of Gibraltar to Spain.

“It took me less than 20 days to get from my country to the boat that would take me to Europe,” she told Al Jazeera. “The entire nightmare began after being intercepted by the Moroccan royal navy, when I realised that I had to survive here.”

With her savings spent, she was forced to fend for herself. For a while, she found shelter in an unfinished house that she shared with 12 other migrants. In the hope of earning a little money, she swept the streets of the neighbourhood. Recently, the house’s owner forced the migrants to leave and Sylvi moved to another house with a fellow Cameroonian.

Many of the women migrants from sub-Saharan Africa who are seeking to reach Europe also face a bleak situation in Morocco. With no documents and no access to state services, many rely on limited support from local NGOs and have little choice but to beg for money in order to feed their families and pay rent.

They also face harassment from members of the local community as well as exploitation at the hands of gangs who control the boats that would take them to Spain. Since the government imposed a nationwide lockdown on March 20 in an attempt to contain the coronavirus outbreak, people have only been allowed to go outside to buy food or medicine, meaning it has become even harder to earn money or even to beg. As of April 26, Morocco had reported at least 4,065 cases and 161 deaths.

Meanwhile, the Moroccan authorities in 2018 launched a crackdown against undocumented migrants by sending them to southern towns far from the coast and borders with Spanish territory. In recent years, hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees have attempted to reach Europe from North Africa, with thousands dying at sea.

In 2018, Morocco became the most popular departure point for migrants and refugees seeking to reach Europe, passing Libya. According to figures from the International Organization for Migration, more than 15,000 migrants arrived in Spain via the sea route in 2019.

According to local NGO Walking Borders, an average of three people a day have died attempting to reach Spain via the sea route this year.

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