Netherlands: Misconceptions about the first Moroccan guest-workers

Netherlands: Misconceptions about the first Moroccan guest-workers

They weren't all illiterate farmers from the Rif Mountains. The common image of the first guest-workers from Morocco was shattered in a conference in Rabat about 40 years of Moroccan immigration to the Netherlands.

This article was prepared by the Islam in Europe blog -

One morning, when he was at the market selling his meat, 30 year old Mohammed Gribi from Kenitra, a small city just north of Raban, heard that they needed butchers in the Netherlands. He immediately left his work and reported to the local employment agency. There he was met by two representatives of the then flourishing grocery chain De Gruiter, measured (1.72m) and subjected to a test to see if he could read and write.

"I had to write my name, my first name and birthday. After that I had to draw a cow, rabbit or sheep. I drew a tree and under it grass with a rabbit. They looked at it and said: "That is good, excellent!" More tests followed, to decide whether Gribi was healthy, handy with a knife and knew the anatomy of a cow. A short time later, he started walking in the Hague.

Mohammed Gribi’s testimony is just one of the fifty which were record by Annemarie Cottaar and Nadia Bouras in the book "Marokkanen in Nederland, de pioniers vertellen" (Moroccans in the Netherlands, the pioneers talk), which will be published this week. The authors, employed by the University of Leiden, were in Rabat for the past two days, at the invitation of the Dutch Institute in Morocco (NIMAR), which had organized a conference on the subject "forty years of Moroccan migration". Exactly four decades ago, on May 14, 1969, the Netherlands and Morocco signed the so called employment agreement, which enabled Dutch companies to bring workers from Morocco.

At the conference in Rabat Cottaar explain that the testimonies of the 'pioneers' bring out a completely different picture than the one which is currently generally accepted about this first generation: that they were all illiterate farmers from the most backwards areas of the Rif, victims of unscrupulous companies, recruited to carry out the dirtiest work in the Netherlands. But, according to Cottar, the pioneers didn't see themselves that way. They saw themselves rather as sturdy young men, who went to find adventure, who took a brave step in order to give their children a better future. They worked hard, certainly, but also enjoyed life in the free Netherlands. "Boy, we were wild," says one of the pioneers in the book.

Moreover, many companies looked for educated employees, people like the butcher Mohammed Gribi. In the Limburg mine area, they also needed experienced workers.

A persistent misconception is that the first migrants were all recruited in the Rif, because Morocco wanted to get rid of their troublesome Rif people. Cottaar and Bouras's figures show the opposite. Most workers were recruited in Agadir (mostly by the Dutch state mines) , in Fes (Bamshoeve) and in Marrakesh (by the state mines).

The fact that of the estimated 340,000 Dutch Moroccans today, 75% have origins in the Rif, is for different reasons. Many Moroccans came from the Rif to the Netherlands on their own. Many Rif residents who already worked in France or Belgium moved to the Netherlands since the working conditions were much better.

Source: Trouw (Dutch)

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