Hundreds of children and teens are crammed into warehouses or sleeping in city parks in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, North Africa, as their destination remains in the air days after thousands of migrants arrived in the city.
More than 8,000 migrants crossed into the seven-square-mile territory last week, many of them swimming or piling into flimsy inflatable rafts to skirt the breakwater that marks the border with Morocco, amid reports that Moroccan officials had relaxed controls. over the border last week. At least two people died trying to cross.
About 7,000 of those who crossed into Spain have been sent back across the border, according to Spanish authorities, but the city has identified 438 children and adolescents who arrived unaccompanied by adults and more are being detained as workers social services tour the city parks. and streets.
“We are working to address the problem of children who have come alone,” Spain’s minister of social rights, Ione Belarra, told Spanish broadcaster RTVE. “It is important to understand that we are seeing children much younger than usual: children of seven, eight, nine years.”
Many of them have been sent to warehouses-turned-shelters to carry out a 10-day coronavirus quarantine under police surveillance.
Several minors who have managed to sneak out of warehouses have complained that the overcrowded and inadequate facilities meant they had gone days without hot meals, instead surviving on supplies such as apples, yogurt and sandwiches, while the lack of beds had left many from them. them sleeping on the floor.
“I’d rather sleep in an abandoned car, like I did the first few days here. It is more comfortable ” said a young man to ElDiario.es. “I want to get out of here,” another told El País, after capturing video that appeared to show a bathroom floor covered in excrement after the toilets stopped working.
Ceuta officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
It is believed that many more minors sleep outside in the parks and on the streets of Ceuta without financial resources or adult supervision. Officials in the city of 85,000 have appealed to regions of Spain for help. “We cannot cope, there are too many children,” Carlos Rontome, one of the city’s deputy leaders, told Spanish national radio this week.
After officials opened a hotline to reunite the children with their families, 4,400 calls were received on its first day of operation, Mabel Deu, another of the city’s deputy leaders, told reporters on Friday. .
Staff work “in the morning, at noon and at night,” while desperate relatives call in hopes of locating loved ones, he said. “The goal is to reunite these minors with their families as soon as possible, because we understand the concern and anguish of many families who do not know where their children are,” said Deu. According to Spanish legislation, minors are left in charge of regional authorities until their relatives can be located or until they reach the age of majority.
Social services workers have found that some children are eager to go home, while others have said they hope to stay in Spain regardless of their family’s wishes, Deu said. Some, like a 14-year-old who spoke to the Associated Press, said that he and his parents had agreed that he should go to Spain.
“They see that if I come here I can have a future,” he said. “You see that your parents cannot work, the educational system is very weak. What can I say?”
Save the Children has urged authorities to consider each child’s situation on a case-by-case basis. “Before repatriation takes place, it is essential that the authorities ensure that it is safe and appropriate for the development and rights of children,” the organization said in a statement.
Amnesty International, referring to reports that Spain had been sending children across the border without due process. “Amnesty reminds the authorities that they must guarantee that the best interests of the child are protected in all cases and that these young people must be able, if appropriate, to request international protection.”
The organization also criticized Morocco for its actions on the border. “Morocco is playing with people’s lives,” said Virginia Álvarez of Amnesty. “They must not use people, including their own citizens, as pawns in a political game.”
Officials in Rabat have suggested that the lax border controls were related to Madrid’s recent decision to allow a Western Sahara independence leader to be treated for Covid-19 in Spain under an alias. Madrid has described the decision as made for “strictly humanitarian reasons.”
Analysts have characterized Morocco’s actions as part of an emboldened Rabat push for European states to acknowledge its claim on Western Sahara. In December, the US administration of Donald Trump became the first Western country to recognize Morocco’s claim in an agreement aimed at normalizing relations between Israel and Morocco.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism