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IMMIGRATION

Father of boy smuggled into Spain in suitcase on trial

The heart-rending photo went round the world in 2015, showing an eight-year-old boy from Ivory Coast crammed into a suitcase that was found at a Spanish border crossing.

Father of boy smuggled into Spain in suitcase on trial
Abou, aged 8, was curled up inside a suitcase. Photo: Guardia Civil

His father goes on trial Tuesday in Ceuta, a Spanish overseas territory in northern Morocco which migrants from Africa regularly try to reach by scaling high border fences, hiding behind car dashboards or in bus chassis.   

Prosecutors are seeking a three-year prison term for Ali Ouattara for facilitating his son's illegal entry into Europe and endangering the child's life.

“I'm going to this trial with a lot of confidence because I'm not a human trafficker,” Ouattara, 45, told AFP.

On May 7, 2015, Spanish police noticed a young Moroccan woman dragging what looked like a heavy suitcase across the border with Ceuta.   

When they put the suitcase through an X-ray machine they were shocked to see the silhouette of a child curled up in foetal position.    


Photo: Interior ministry

“My name is Adou,” the boy told them in French after they extricated him from the suitcase, according to Spanish journalist Nicolas Castellano, who wrote a book about the story.

Paid traffickers €5,000

The desperate smuggling attempt was a first in Ceuta.    

But only three months later, a 27-year-old Moroccan died of asphyxiation inside a suitcase placed in the trunk of a car on a ferry linking Melilla, another Spanish territory in Morocco, to southern Spain.

Adou was soon reunited with his mother, and his father, who had been waiting for his son on the Spanish side of the border, was arrested shortly after the police discovery.

Ouattara said he was “misled” by the traffickers who charged him €5,000 ($6,200) and did not tell him his son would be hidden in a suitcase.   

The traffickers had initially promised to fly the boy from the Ivorian economic capital Abidjan to Madrid but then told him they would instead travel via Ceuta by car, he said.

“For us, it was crucial for the child to come, we couldn't live without him, we couldn't stop thinking about him,” Ouattara said.   

A former philosophy and French teacher in Abidjan, Ouattara arrived illegally in Spain in 2006, making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean aboard a boat.

He eventually got a stable job and home in the Canary Islands, and was able to bring his wife and daughter over legally.    

But Spanish authorities refused four times to let him bring over his son too.

“I was earning more than 1,300 euros in a launderette but they said it wasn't enough” for the entire family to live, he says.    

His wife, daughter and Adou are now living in France, but Ali is still in Spain as he is barred from leaving the country pending the trial.   

Adou is expected to return to Ceuta for the trial.

By Laurence Boutreux / AFP

POLITICS

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

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