Dubai restaurant opens doors to mourners after Morocco earthquake

Moroccans living in the UAE come together to show support for families back home

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A Dubai restaurant was transformed into a refuge on Monday night for grieving Moroccans living in the UAE who were coming to terms with the earthquake that devastated their home country.

Al Boughaz Al Maghiribi restaurant, located in the Abu Hail neighbourhood, closed its kitchen and opened its doors for Moroccan residents across the UAE.

The move was aimed at providing a space for people to come together in mourning and solidarity.

“The idea is to show support to our families in Morocco,” Hicham Hansali, the restaurant's owner, told The National.

“Had we been in Morocco, we could have offered help. But being far away, this is as much as we can do at the moment.”

Ongoing search

A 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck several parts of Morocco on Friday and has so far claimed the lives of about 2,900 people. the country's Interior Ministry has said.

A 3.9-magnitude aftershock hit the country on Sunday, with the death toll expected to rise as rescuers continue efforts to locate survivors.

Moroccan imams from Dubai and Ajman were at the restaurant to recite passages from the Quran and offer prayers for those affected by the disaster.

“We have opened to offer Moroccan residents who may have lost family members a place to receive condolences, especially those who are here alone without their families,” Mr Hansali said.

The opportunity for the Moroccan community in the UAE to come together to grieve was advertised on social media, with an overwhelming response, he said.

“So many people were responsive, asking about the time and the location,” Mr Hansali said.

Recalling previous tragedies

Ahaddad Abdeslam, 43, an imam from a Dubai mosque, spoke of how he was torn between two worlds as he left Morocco early on Saturday for the UAE, where his wife and children awaited him.

“I passed by my sister’s house in Agadir on my way to the airport,” he told The National.

“We felt something shaking and thought it was her son playing, but within seconds, we realised it was far more serious.”

People's thoughts immediately turned to the earthquake of 1960, which claimed thousands of lives, as they scrambled to escape the shaking building, he added.

“Our city has a history with a deadly earthquake that claimed nearly 15,000 lives, so you can imagine the terror that gripped the people,” Mr Abdeslam said.

“People were screaming and even shoving each other in panic, resulting in injuries among the elderly.

“I tried to call my parents but the network was down and I had to leave, I was already a week late and had barely managed to secure my flight ticket.”

It was not until several hours later he found out his family were safe as messages from loved ones began to filter through.

“My father, who is also an imam, is aged 74 and spent the night in the mosque's yard, and the rest of the family took shelter on the streets,” Mr Abdeslam said.

“My neighbour, who is also my friend, called to wish me a safe trip and informed me his sister had passed away.

“I knew her personally, she was only 31. She had a panic attack, and with the network down, medics couldn't be reached.”

Making donations

Ahmed El Malouli, a leading figure in the Moroccan community in the UAE and owner of Nujoom Dubai Public Relations Company, which helped organise the event, told The National that he was in contact with authorities about donations.

He said a message circulating among members of the public is urging them to donate essential items such as clothes, canned food, medicine and blankets.

“So many people want to donate but we are just waiting for a confirmation on the proper channels from authorities,” Mr El Malouli said.

Organisations in the UAE have also begun reaching out to help, including the Starbucks Foundation and Alshaya Group donating $200,000 (Dh735,000) to relief efforts, and Etisalat by e& which is offering 30 minutes of free calls to Morocco this week to check on friends and relatives.

The UAE this week announced it would provide emergency services and deliver aid through a number of channels, including an air corridor.

Algeria also opened its air space for the first time in two years to facilitate flights carrying aid.

Other countries, including Jordan, France, the US, Spain, the UK and Germany, also said they were preparing emergency assistance.

Updated: September 12, 2023, 8:19 AM