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Father of suitcase boy walks free as family reunited

A Spanish court on Tuesday allowed an Ivory Coast man to walk free, with only a small fine to pay, after his son was found crammed into a suitcase at a border crossing.

Father of suitcase boy walks free as family reunited

Prosecutors had initially sought a three-year prison term for Ali Ouattara, 45, for facilitating his son's illegal entry into Europe and threatening the child's life.

“The child's life was endangered, he was inhumanly curled up in a tiny suitcase, without ventilation,” judge Fernando Teson said as the trial got under way.

The heart-rending photo of the boy went round the world in 2015, during the peak of Europe's worst migrant crisis since World War II.   

The trial took place in Ceuta, a Spanish territory in Morocco which migrants from Africa regularly try to reach by scaling high border fences or smuggled through in cars.

As the trial drew to a close, prosecutors asked that the court order Ouattara to pay a fine, because they found no evidence to prove the father knew his son would be trafficked in a suitcase.

Ouattara, who has already spent a month behind bars, was ordered to pay a 92 euro ($114) fine by the three presiding judges.   

“It's all over and we can begin to resume out lives, together, my wife, my daughter my son and I in Bilbao,” in northern Spain, Ouattara said as he emerged from the court.

His lawyer, Juan Isidro Fernandez, explained to the court how the boy had been left with just his 18-year-old brother in Ivory Coast after their grandmother died.


Ali Ouattara, 45 (C) talk with his lawyer Juan Isidro Fernandez (R) in court during his trial in Ceuta,. Photo: AFP

The now 10-year-old boy, whose name is Adou, currently lives in a Paris suburb with his mother but travelled to Ceuta to testify. 

Adou told the judges he had had difficulty breathing while in the suitcase, which he was forced into by a “Moroccan girl”.    

It was ultimately his testimony that saved his father from jail.    

Adou said Ouattara had told him he would be taken “by car”, and that there had never been any mention of a suitcase.

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.

The two Spanish enclaves are the only places in Europe which share a land border with Africa.

Adou was reunited with his mother soon after arriving in Ceuta, while his father was arrested shortly after the police discovery.    

Ouattara told the judge Tuesday that he had been living in Spain legally for eight years, and that he had a stable job.   

While his wife and daughter were able to join him, the Spanish authorities had rejected four requests for Adou to come because they deemed the father's €1,300 ($1,600) monthly salary insufficient to cover the family's needs.   

A desperate Ouattara was misled by traffickers in Ivory Coast who charged him €5,000 ($6,200) and did not tell him his son would be hidden in a suitcase.

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.

“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.

By AFP's Laurence Boutreux 

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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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