NADOR — Papa Africa carefully wraps his only possession, a cooking pot, in a cover. He then climbs up to the top of a tree to hang it. “It’s because of the police. When they come, they burn and break everything,” he explains as he jumps back to the ground.
Next stop is the "Tranquilo,” a safe place to hide, a rock wall with narrow cavities where it is possible to stow yourself away for a few hours, about the time it takes the Moroccan police to leave the Gourougou forest. Hundreds of clandestine sub-Saharan Africans — more than 700, according to various estimates — are subsisting in this northeastern corner of Morocco, among the pines and the rocks.
Papa Africa has been here for three years. He comes from Mali, from the region around Kayes. He is 26 and, like all the people here, he has one dream: making it into the nearby Spanish town of Melilla, hemmed in this northwestern Moroccan region. It is the gateway to Europe. To the right, there is Morocco’s Nador, one of the region’s largest towns. To the left is Spain’s Melilla, surrounded by three tall metal barriers, the highest one reaching seven meters. Between both towns, on the road, huge billboards announce a Moroccan land settlement and the construction of a high-class tourist complex. The golf course, with its neat lawns, is already finished.
To get to the Gourougou forest, atop which we can see everything, we take byroads, trek a long time among steep rocks and prickly pears before reaching the forested area at the top. The first “residents” of the woods appear: They are lookouts keeping an eye out for police sweeps. “They do two raids per day, one in the morning and another in the evening,” says Wilfrid, a 23-year-old Cameroonian, without taking his eyes off Melilla. “Everybody has his chance. Everyone has his own star.”
Taking on the fence
On Sept. 17, more than 300 men left the mountain at dawn to rush Melilla’s tall fences, which they climbed within minutes, sometimes with makeshift ladders made out of branches. Many fell and injured themselves. Others were pushed back. That day, 98 of them made it to the Temporary Reception Center for Refugees.
“Twelve arrived the following day, 10 on the third day,” the center’s director Carlos Montero Diaz says. The Spanish Civil Guard broadcast horrible footage taken by helicopter of this “assault,” the third one since the beginning of the year. On Sept. 19, 200 other illegal immigrants tried again. Wilfrid promises himself that he will succeed next time.
Originally from Douala, he and his companions in misfortune completed a long journey to get here, passing through Nigeria, Niger and the north of Mali with great difficulty and after paying the equivalent of 38 euros. It was right in the middle of the conflict between the central government in Bamako, the Tuareg and the Jihadist groups. He then travelled from Tamanrasset, in southern Algeria, to the Moroccan border, 70 kilometers away from Nador. It was a journey punctuated by the smugglers’ violent acts and extortions, but his goal now lies before him, and he is determined. “Where I come from, there’s no money, no work. In Europe, you can live.”
A few pots, covers, sparse supplies
Swadogo Seydou, 19, comes from Burkina Faso. “I tried swimming there through the sea, from Tangier, but I got caught and it’s very dangerous.” Next time, he will try to get there by land. There are also men from Guinea-Conakry, the Ivory Coast, Somalia and dozens of others, from Mali and Cameroon, all around 20 years old, scattered around the bushes. “The ones who speak English are further away, in other camps,” says Papa Africa, vaguely pointing towards another part of the mountain occupied by Nigerians.
The men who speak French stay together, in complete destitution. A few pots, covers and scarce supplies. Market scraps, chicken legs, a bit of rice, a handful of potatoes, water containers brought back painfully by those whose turn it was to go “shopping.” The most precious possession that the men keep is the cellphone. It allows them to stay in contact with their family, but most importantly with those who made it into Melilla. That is, of course, when they have enough battery.
The living conditions of these migrants has worsened since the March departure of Doctors Without Borders (DWB). In a report entitled “Trapped at the gates of Europe,” the organization condemned as “institutional violence” the migratory policies that “favored security criteria” at the cost of “fundamental human rights.” DWB adds that “since 2004, our teams have witnessed an increase in the number of police raids during which the migrants’ personal belongings are destroyed, and in the number of deportations towards Algeria.”
Racism on the rise
“They arrive illegally, they’re pushed away illegally,” says Adil Akid, an activist with the Moroccan Human Rights Association in Nador. The mobile DWB tent has been replaced by a garrison of Moroccan police forces. The Africans claim that they are victims of police brutality when they are caught, before being released into the wild. Several bear traces of beatings on their arms and legs. Many also say that they were violently forced back behind the barriers, even though they managed to set foot on Spanish soil.
In Morocco — which has become not only a “transit country” but also one where migrants are forced to stay and on which Europe puts a lot of pressure, according to DWB — acts of anti-black racism are increasing in number. A few months ago, a Moroccan magazine headlined a front page story “Black peril.” In July, real estate posters calling on landlords not to rent to Africans were criticized on social networks. In August, a Senegalese, Ismail Faye, 31, was stabbed to death during an altercation with a Moroccan in Rabat, the capital, which started after a dispute about a bus seat.
Moroccan King Mohammed VI finally stepped in. After the Moroccan National Council for Human Rights submitted a report on the topic, he called for a “more human handling of illegal immigrants.”
Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.
It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.
More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.
But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:
Cleaner aviation fuel
The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.
While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.
Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.
In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.
Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.
High-flying ambitions for the sector
Hydrogen and electrification
Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.
One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.
Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.
New aircraft designs
Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.
International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.
The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.
Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airportcommons.wikimedia.org
Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.
The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.
Data privacy issues
However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.
Auckland Airport, New Zealand
The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?
At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.
Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.
40% of Swedes intend to travel less
According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.
But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.
At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.
- How Persian Gulf Airlines Surged To Top Class Of Travel Industry ... ›
- How Countries Are Coping With A Tanking Tourism Industry ... ›
- COVID Recovery? End-Of-Summer Checkup On Travel Industry ... ›