Returning minors to Morocco from Spain’s African enclaves is ‘illegal’: court

A Spanish court on Thursday ruled that sending unaccompanied Moroccan minors back home after they entered the Ceuta enclave in May last year was illegal and violated their rights.

Migrants, including minors, who arrived swimming at the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, rest as Spanish soldiers stand guard on May 18, 2021 in Ceuta. (Photo by Antonio Sempere / AFP)

More than 10,000 people surged across the frontier into Spain’s tiny North African enclave in mid-May 2021 as the Moroccan border guards looked the other way, among them hundreds of unaccompanied minors.

Although most migrants were immediately sent back in the following days, some 820 children and teenagers remained in Ceuta.

Several months later, the government of Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez began sending them back to Morocco in groups of 15, but the move sparked a backlash within his left-wing coalition and complaints from various NGOs.

In mid-August, a court suspended the repatriations following a petition by two human rights groups who said the youngsters were being sent back without any access to a lawyer or the chance to argue their case.

“It is legal and possible (to send them back) as long as it is done with a series of guarantees,” lawyer Patricia Fernandez Vicens told AFP at the time.

The authorities in Ceuta, as well as the central government’s representative in the city appealed the ruling, but on Thursday, Andalusia’s top court, which has jurisdiction in the enclave, confirmed the court’s original decision.

In the ruling, a copy of which was seen by AFP, the court found that the authorities had “omitted all the essential steps and procedural safeguards that must be complied with for repatriation.

“The actions of the administration made it impossible to follow up on the repatriations that it implemented,” it said.

“Its own actions, which lacked the minimum procedural guarantees required, resulted in an actual situation of risk to the physical or moral integrity of the unaccompanied minors who were sent back”.

The “massive, sudden and illegal” entry of migrants into Ceuta “in no way allows Spain” to sidestep the law, it concluded.

The ruling can be appealed.

Ceuta and Melilla, Spain’s two North African enclaves, have the European Union’s only land borders with Africa, making them a magnet for people who are desperate to escape grinding poverty and hunger.

Last week, at least 23 African migrants were killed when around 2,000 people tried to cross the fence into Melilla in what was by far the worst death toll in years of attempts to cross into the Spanish enclaves.

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Three migrants found dead on boat rescued off Spain’s coast

Spanish rescuers on Monday found three dead migrants and 45 survivors, mostly Moroccan and some in very bad condition, on a boat off Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands, the coastguard said.

Three migrants found dead on boat rescued off Spain's coast

Rescuers from Salvamento Maritimo were called out to a boat in trouble off the island and reached the vessel just after midnight, a spokesman said.

He said the crew had found 45 survivors — 42 men, two women and a child — and three bodies.

All those rescued were Moroccan, with the exception of one sub-SaharanAfrican man,” he told AFP.

The 112 emergency services said five of those on board were in bad condition, adding that six people had been taken to hospital.

READ ALSO: Nearly 1,000 migrants died trying to reach Spain in first half of 2022: NGO

In the first seven months of the year, 9,589 migrants survived the extremely dangerous sea journey from the coast of Africa to the Spanish islands in the Atlantic, compared with 7,531 a year earlier, interior ministry figures correct to July 31 show.

In the same period, sea arrivals to Spain’s Balearic Isles in the Balearic Isles fell to 5,284 from 7,292 a year earlier.

Monday’s rescue comes after a frenetic weekend for Salvamento Maritimo which pulled nearly 600 people to safety in waters off the Atlantic archipelago.

Migrant arrivals on the Atlantic archipelago have surged since late 2019 after increased patrols along Europe’s southern coast dramatically reduced Mediterranean crossings.

READ ALSO: What happens to undocumented migrants when they arrive in Spain?

At its shortest, the route from the Moroccan coast is around 100 kilometres (60 miles), but migrants often come from much further afield, with the distance from Mauritania more than 1,000 kilometres as the crow flies.

The Atlantic route is notoriously dangerous because of strong currents, with migrants often setting sail in overcrowded ramshackle boats which are extremely unsafe.

READ ALSO: How Europe’s population is changing and what the EU is doing about it