Morocco’s deadly earthquake triggers surge of solidarity in France

Morocco’s deadly earthquake triggers surge of solidarity in France

In the wake of the devastating earthquake that killed more than 2,000 people in Morocco late on Friday, French cities and civic associations have mobilised to bring emergency aid to those hit hardest by the quake. 

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In a stark white room made available to the town hall of Châtillon, a village just south of Paris, a dozen women were hard at work on Sunday sorting through the donations that wouldn’t stop pouring in. Clothing, tents and quilts, as well as medicine and food, steadily filled up the large plastic bags that sat ready to receive them.

With the Moroccan diaspora in France estimated at 1.5 million people – roughly 670,000 of them dual nationals – the shock waves of the quake were felt keenly on the other side of the Mediterranean.

“It’s the country I was born in, and I grew up there, so obviously it affected me,” Fedoua explained in a thin voice, her arms cradling tote bags stuffed with clothing.

A municipal hall in the town of Châtillon south of Paris hosts a donation drive for people affected by the earthquake in Morocco. © Grégoire Sauvage, FRANCE 24

“It really shocked me. I think that it took me 24 hours to realise what had happened,” said Latifah, a woman in her 30s from northern Morocco. Having come here with her family to make a donation, she decided to give a few hours of her time to the volunteers overwhelmed by the success of their donation drive.

“It really warms my heart – everyone has mobilised for a good cause,” she said.

Anticipating winter needs

Beyond the Moroccan community, many French people are also feeling a sense of solidarity with the country, which was a French protectorate from 1912 to 1956. One of them is Boubou, who made the trip from the neighbouring town of Meudon to bring men’s clothes and medicine.

“It was important for me to support people in need,” the 31-year-old said. “I don’t have any connection to Morocco, but I think in these moments we’re all connected.”

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Dounia Hannach is the young woman at the heart of this hastily organised donation drive. In 2018 she founded the Abajad association, which helps people find employment by offering targeted French language courses. With an Abajad office in Morocco, Hannach hopes to be able to quickly bring over the donations collected in France.

Dounia Hannach, la founder of the Abajad association, oversees a donation drive organised in the town of Châtillon south of Paris.
Dounia Hannach, la founder of the Abajad association, oversees a donation drive organised in the town of Châtillon south of Paris. © Grégoire Sauvage, FRANCE 24

“What we need is winter clothing, blankets and tents, because it is essentially the people living in the mountains who have been affected, and it will soon get cold,” Hannach said. “So we’re trying to anticipate the needs for winter.”

“More and more people are also asking if they can make financial donations, because they can’t necessarily travel,” she said. “So I’ve just now created an emergency fund.” 

Hannach is planning on organising a second donation drive over the next few days. 

Millions of euros in financial aid

As the earthquake’s death toll continues to rise, initiatives like Hannach’s are flourishing everywhere in France, with donation drives organised by town halls and local associations, garage sales raising money for those affected and emergency funds being solicited through social media.

Several French charitable organisations called on the wider public Saturday to show their generosity, among them anti-poverty non-profit Secours Populaire (Popular Relief) and philanthropy network la Fondation de France, which immediately announced the mobilisation of €250,000 to help those affected by the quake. 

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Many French cities and regions have also promised logistical or financial support for Morocco. The mayor of Marseille notably offered the support of the coastal city’s firefighters. And Valérie Pécresse, the president of the Île-de-France (Paris region) council, promised half a million euros in aid.

On Saturday, the French foreign affairs ministry triggered external action funds to support the efforts of local authorities. The fund, which is managed by the ministry’s Crisis and Support Centre, allows local governments to provide emergency disaster relief to those hit by humanitarian crises across the world. The ministry said that a number of local authorities had already approached them offering help to the sum of almost €2 million.

This article has been translated from the original in French.