By Karima Rhanem | Morocco TIMES 6/21/2005 | 3:36 pm
London, Notting Hill -- The Moroccan community in London, settled in North Kensington during the 1960's, is still struggling for identity and recognition.
Souad Talsi-Naji, a British immigration specialist of Moroccan descent sees the community as disoriented in terms of its relations with local authorities, central administration and support services, and in terms of its integration as a minority within the body of London. She claimed in an interview with Morocco Times that the number of success stories is very sporadic and is greatly outnumbered by the failures.
You have certainly heard about Julia Roberts' Notting Hill. Well, it is not just a movie, but a place where our Moroccan community have settled for more than four decades.
Taza Snack, Bab Marrakech, Casablanca Halal Meat Butchers, L'Etoile de Sousse Patisserie. Such names make you feel you are in one of Casablanca neighborhoods. This is not Morocco but Golborne Road, North Kensington, London W10.
Kensington, where the famous Notting Hill Gate is located, has been home to more than 6000 Moroccans.
As you are exploring the area, going up to Queensway and Bayswater – 15 minutes walk from Notting Hill, you not only hear Moroccan Darija, but different Arabian dialects. You probably think you are in the Midlle East!
“The Moroccan community came to North Kensington in the early 1960's, when migrant workers were directly recruited by British hotels and catering trades,” said Souad Talsi-Naji, a British immigration specialist of Moroccan descent.
“Apart from the small Moroccan Jewish community which settled in Manchester in the 19th century, Most Moroccans living in Britain,” added Talsi-Naji, “came from 'Jbala' of Northern Morocco; others came from Meknes and Casablanca.”
According to a 2001 Census, conducted by the British Office for National Statistics, the Moroccan community in London – estimated at 6000 – is the largest Arab community in the area of Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBK & C).
Al Hasaniya Moroccan Women's Center, a Londonian NGO working closely with the Moroccan community, estimated, however, that there are more than 8000 Moroccans living in the RBK & C area.
“The number of Moroccans living in this area, given by the Office of National Statistics is just estimation. We believe the number is higher as recent political events in the World and particularly in the Middle East have affected Moroccans' perception towards their identity,” said Souad Talsi-Naji.
Talsi-Naji, who is also a founding member of the Al Hasaniya Moroccan women's center, added that “Moroccans in post 9/11 have reviewed their identity. Some identified themselves as Muslims first and foremost, whilst others feared to identify themselves as Moroccans or Muslims, and some have even changed their names.”
“Despite steady restrictions imposed on migrant entry into Britain since early 1970's and recent entry clearance visas on Maghreb nationals in 1996, there is still some regular movement between Morocco and Britain,” said Talsi-Naji.
She added that the increasing number of the community has been due primarily to the arrival of dependants and the growth of families settled in London with an average of 4 children.
Arriving in London with no spoken English, the first generation of Moroccan immigrants have sought to retain a lifestyle consistent with Moroccan Muslim traditions. They struggled hard to establish their own religious and social facilities, quranic and Arabic studies schools for the younger generation.
“However,” said Talsi-Naji, “it is worth mentioning that the generation gap is bigger than ever, and our community is on the brink of complete disorientation.”
A gap in values and understanding has grown up between parents and the second generation of young people, born and educated in Britain, holding British citizenship and having western values.
“Whilst the first generation remains adamant and resolute to its self-containment, the second generation has rejected such values and embraced those of British society, creating in some cases absolute chaos in family life and the present growing concerns of our third generation,” explained Talsi-Naji.
Talsi-Naji complained that education attainments among the Moroccan community is very poor, and that statistics show that children seldom go beyond the General Certificate for Secondary Education (GCSE) level and leave school without adequate qualifications to compete in the job market.
“One tends to see that the second generation is somewhat of a déjà vu of the first generation immigration. The only difference is that the second generation has the language facilities to communicate,” stressed Talsi-Naji
Arabic, according to the office of National Statistics, is the most common language, other than English, spoken in schools in Kensington and Chelsea, with nearly one in four English-Arabic Language (EAL) children speaking this language.
Figures also suggest that 23.9% of children in schools in the area speak Arabic at home.
Arab immigrants are keen to retain a sense of cultural identity, and the local councils' recognize the need to support this, although mutual understanding is not always easy to achieve. The view has been expressed in some quarters that the Moroccan community is fragmented almost beyond repair.
Kensington, Paris' 'Monte la Jolie'
Souad Talsi-Naji, raised concerns over the Moroccan community in Kensington, referring to the family breakdown and the increase incidence of juvenile delinquency, which is linked to the dramatic rise of youth unemployment.
The community in Kensington is suffering from high level of unemployment across all ages, especially young men. It is a growing problem which leads to low self-esteem, insecurity, depression, and in some cases petty crime and drug addiction. Talsi-Naji called Kensington 'Paris Monte la Jolie', in which social ills are concentrated.
Faced with these issues, Moroccans have struggled for recognition of their particular needs - including social services, education and equal opportunities, in a society in which they found themselves marginalized both economically and in their access to services.
Whilst the host community has been exercising its commitment to equal opportunities and in some cases positive discrimination, in order to attract Moroccans to their employment as social workers, nurses, teachers, or legal advisors, very few Moroccans have come forward.
“The reason,” explains Talsi-Naji, “is that our community is not as yet wholly convinced of the vital role played by education and training. We tend to see things from a very narrow point of view and, very sadly, couldn't match other ethnic minorities in Britain such as the Indian community.
Successes and failures
Talsi-Naji said that the Moroccan community in the UK have achieved a little in four decades of immigration. She emphasised that the number of success stories is very sporadic and is greatly outnumbered by the failures.
“The overall picture of our community in London, particularly in Kensington, is that of a completely disoriented one in terms of its relations with local authorities, central administration and support services, and in terms of its own dynamic and its integration as a minority within the body of London.
Talsi-Naji believes that the major solution to this problem is to address efforts to encourage and reinforce self-esteem, and self-confidence among the Moroccan community and help them regain their pride and dignity.
This is, however, not to say that there are no happy stories to report on the community. The fact that organizations such as Al-Hasaniya exist and have done successfully so for the last 20 years, fully demonstrates the commitment of the Moroccan community and the progress made so far.
A significant number of Moroccan children have reached an acceptable level of education, good enough to take them to the white collar employment group, slowly eradicating the need to be bleu collar workers.
“But is this enough?” wondered Talsi-Naji, “I would argue not, simply because we should be doing so much better; we should be ambitious enough to achieve educational level of high standards; to have professional careers and be counted amongst the successful communities; to fully integrate in local politics.”
The immigration specialist and woman activist emphasized that the community should stop marginalizing itself as “the host country has not impeded the community's progress but rather we have done it to ourselves,” she said.
“It is high time to take responsibility and own up to our mistakes, time to replace community leaders who are still having the old 'Basri' mentality without proper qualification and totally power possessed without the common good; time for the Moroccan authorities to recognize the work done by NGO's and assist them by supporting their work; and time to encourage further education and get role models to work with our youngsters to build on the ethos of striving to excellence,” she suggested.