With a population of around 30,000 living in a confined space of just two and a half square miles it’s important to maintain that which the Rock’s often praised for… `presenting a model of tolerance and acceptance’ within the community… not very evident elsewhere outside our borders!
We have Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, members of other religions or groupings, nonbelievers and whoever is in between, living in harmony on a very limited stretch of soil! Today, many other nationalities are resident on the Rock: individuals who also have a set of beliefs as a religion or other form of conviction. Youssef El Hana is pretty determined to progress on the free-thinking, open-minded, tolerant Gibraltar community even further with everyone’s indulgence. `Understanding Gibraltar’ – a Think Tank – set up a few years ago supports efforts to bring the community closer together. Apart from the communities mentioned above, Baha’is, Humanists and Atheists have taken part in this positive endeavour and Youssef takes part in that consultative grouping too. Hence, keeping the peace and living in harmony is good enough reason to keep the status quo which needs to be nurtured and encouraged at every stage. It has to be said that by and large some of our sub-communities keep to themselves and that’s OK whilst respecting the customs and traditions of others, and that has been the way on the Rock always.
Moroccans began arriving on the Rock in considerable numbers in the late 60s and 70s during the closure of our land border when the Spanish workforce had to leave Gibraltar, but there were some who arrived much earlier in the early 60s. “That’s right. My family began to settle here then. I was born in Morocco and was brought over when I was three years old,” 25 year old Youssef tells me, “so I consider myself a Gibraltarian Muslim of Moroccan ethnicity.” Because Youssef’s family has made the Rock their home, he is of the strong belief more members of his and other communities should integrate more fully in the country they’ve chosen to make their home. That’s why Gibraltarian Youssef has been busy over a few years organising events aiming to bring all of our minority communities and Christians closer together. “At the end of every day during Ramadan we have IFTAR or the breaking of the fast, where Muslims have abstained from food and drink all through the day!” Whilst living in the UK, Youssef and other Muslim friends noticed Iftar being offered to the rest of the community – all and sundry Muslim or otherwise – and thought it a good idea to introduce it on the Rock so as to partake in food and beverages and enjoy a casual chat with the person next to them and learn more about each other’s way of life. Non-Muslims are also asked to take on the challenge and take part in a fast for a day `Unity Fast’ and offer a donation which would go to a worthy cause on the Just Giving charity website. “Gibraltarians and friends away from the Rock have taken part in the event offering videos and pictures of their efforts. “In 2017 we raised £500, £1,000 in 2018 and we’re hoping to reach our target of £1,500 this year. I have a number of young Muslims helping me to set up these special days and thanks also go to the Gibraltar Government and other commercial entities like Marble Arc, Saccone & Speed, GibMaroc and others for their support. On a larger scale I’ve helped to organise this Ramadan idea in Kingston University (where I studied) which brought many members of the much wider community together, a key to improving the world we live in.”
Youssef, who has his PGCE and teaches science in a Croydon school, clearly has a yearning and constant craving for research. He studied Bio-Medicine Science in Kingston, has a Masters in Cancer Biology, and is now going for a Masters in International Relations. But it doesn’t end there: he also aims to attain a PhD in Cancer Research, and he’ll probably go for more! So when not studying, Youssef says he’s an advocate for more integration. He’s happy with the way `come together’ events have gone so far at the Europa Mosque, the Boulevard and on Wellington Front, but claims he wants to see 110% more as regards integration. “I can only speak about my community and think many British Moroccans have been on the Rock for 30, 40 and more years and can hardly speak a word of English, but there are many others who have integrated fully.” Youssef says the majority of the early Moroccan settlers on the Rock were illiterate. They came to work and provide for their families. However, today, Gibraltarian Moroccans can be found in the medical field, accountancy and legal professions, the RGP and Prison Service, the Royal Gibraltar Regiment… and the list goes on.
There are of course memories of how the Moroccan community was treated on the Rock by some in the past, hurtful memories and some of the younger elements of the community may hold a certain amount of resentment towards the authorities and others, memories which Youssef considers should not be forgotten but not used to hold back progress. “We should learn from the past and not dwell on it but learn from it and move on. Today the majority are like minded individuals who I work with in the Muslim Youth of Gibraltar group and we each do our bit. We are the in-roads towards achieving a better understanding of each other by having an informed opinion of each other’s background and in that way breaking the ignorance that in some instances still exists. Yes, we hear a lot about the living conditions of some Moroccans but the fact is, some of them prefer to pay a lower rent for an inferior dwelling so as to save up for their wives and kids in Morocco.” Clearly if those families were brought over they would invest in a place they’d call home. Some years ago Moroccans were offered inducements to return to North Africa at the end of their un-renewed contracts on the Rock… gently booted out, in other words! There have also been complications re access to Government housing, medical care and some other issues too. “It’s also true to say, many more Moroccans are being made British Citizens these days with many achieving better employment. There are currently about 1,700 in the Moroccan community living on the Rock. Personally, I have to thank former Minister for Health – the late Bernard Linares – and others for being instrumental in sending me to the UK for a serious eye operation. I was three years old and diagnosed with cancer. Not being Gibraltarian at the time, my mum and I used to visit my dad who worked, and still does, in Marble Arc on visas. So my family is eternally grateful and things have improved.” Youssef lives with his mum, dad and brothers in the Waterport area and are happy there.
Thus Youssef, the young Gibraltarian with a passion for research – he, who wants to speak out and showcase his community – is for now, a-political, whilst holding an interest from afar. Maybe one day he will go for it and become a politician building on inclusivity for all, but in the meantime he’ll concentrate on helping to build his homeland Gibraltar, an even better place for all and truly make the Rock unmatched… anywhere in the world!