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IMMIGRATION

Spain and Morocco in talks to repatriate migrant minors

Madrid and Rabat are in talks to repatriate thousands of Moroccan minors who arrived in Spain alone without their parents, a Spanish interior ministry spokesman said Friday.

Spain and Morocco in talks to repatriate migrant minors
File photo of a child at emporary Center for Immigrants and Asylum Seekers (CETI) in the Spanish enclave of Melilla. Photo: AFP

The Spanish government estimates that about 10,000 minor migrants are living in Spain without their families — 70 percent of them from Morocco.   

The issue was discussed during a bilateral meeting held in Essaouira on Morocco's Atlantic coast on September 14th, a spokesman for Spain's interior ministry said.

Spain's secretary of state for migration, Consuelo Rumi, “perceived a willingness” on the part of Morocco to repatriate unaccompanied minors living in Spain during the talks, the spokesman told AFP.

“There is no concrete plan yet, this is part of negotiations, of a diplomatic process,” he added.

The roughly 10,000 minor migrants in Spain are under the protection of the regions or cities where they arrive, mainly the southern region of Andalusia and the overseas territories of Ceuta and Melilla in northern Africa.   

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Spain's central government wants to incentivise other regions to take charge of some of them. Last month it unblocked €40 million ($46.5 million) for regions willing to welcome them.

There has been criticism of the way Spain welcomes unaccompanied foreign minors, particularly in Melilla, where many sleep in the streets or in caves waiting to smuggle themselves onto a boat to mainland Europe.

In Ceuta, local government spokesman Jacob Hachuel recently said the minors should be returned to Morocco, saying “they are better off in their family entourage.”

Spain has become the biggest port of entry for clandestine migration into Europe after Italy largely closed its borders under pressure from far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini.

A total of 41,594 irregular migrants entered Spain between January 1st and September 30th, according to the interior ministry.

The vast majority, more than 36,000, arrived by sea, three times the amount which arrived by sea during the same time last year. Just under 5,000 crossed the land border with Ceuta and Melilla.

READ MORE: Spain overtakes Italy as sea route destination for migrants

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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