Cafes in the Kasbah
© Your Middle East
Cafes in the Kasbah
Last updated: November 5, 2014

Tangier, from luxurious decadence to refugee life (PHOTOS)

Banner Icon Once home to some of the greatest writers of our time, Tangier remains a cultural melting pot to this day, but also attracts a large group of sub-Saharan refugees seeking a better future in Europe.

“Tangier is one of the few places left in the world where, so long as you don’t proceed to robbery, violence, or some form of crude, antisocial behaviour, you can do exactly what you want,” American novelist William S. Burroughs said of the city during a time when artists, writers and musicians flocked to Tangier, a city where anything was possible and little forbidden.

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THE MOROCCAN port city lured authors such as Jean Genet, Joe Orton, Mark Twain, Samuel Pepys and Truman Capote, allowing them to freely enjoy their liberal lifestyle of drugs and sexual adventures. The town’s trademark of being a melting pot of cultures originate prior to independence in 1956 when the city was an international zone and only partially governed and administered by different European countries.

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THIS MULTICULTURAL sphere is present until today. Tangier is a mix of European and Mediterranean, Arabic and Islamic as well as Berber and African. However, besides its rich multicultural and literary history the coastal town is now most known for being one of Morocco’s northern cities, only 40 kilometres to the European shore of Spain, a geographical position that makes it a refuge for different cultures. Many sub-Saharan African refugees come ready to defy the lethal Mediterranean waters hoping for a better future in Europe.

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“It took us four years to get here,” said a Nigerian refugee with her toddler son begging for money in the touristic part of Tangier’s Kasbah. “There is nothing else to do here,” she said. She lives together with 800-1,000 other sub-Saharans in the suburb of Boukhalef, 15 kilometres from Tangier city centre. However, she is now ready to give it all up and return to Nigeria, she sees no future for her and her son in Morocco and entering Europe, she argued, is close to impossible.

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SHE IS AMONG the approximately 20,000 sub-Saharan migrants living in Morocco, of whom many hit north to try their luck crossing the Gibraltar, a 30-kilometre-wide strait that has put a brutal end to many people’s pursuit for a better life. Others have established themselves in the city opening small shops, restaurants and acting as tour guides around the Medina and Kasbah making sure that the city’s legendary multicultural heritage remains intact.

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Christine Petré
Christine Petré is an editor at Your Middle East. You can follow her work at
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