The rapid rate at which Spain is returning migrants to Morocco could mean that migrants’ rights are being violated, activists warned, as Spain said it had already sent back 4,800 of the 8,000 people who had arrived in the North African enclave of Ceuta since Monday. .
“How can you summarily return 4,000 people without violating the rights of children, asylum seekers, all?” Judith Sunderland of Human Rights Watch asked on Twitter. “The challenge of so many arrivals in a short time does not justify the violation of rights or the abandonment of our humanity.”
On Wednesday, arrivals in Ceuta practically came to a halt when Morocco tightened border control. Even so, the prime minister of Spain intensified his criticism of the Moroccan government, establishing a direct link between its actions and the unprecedented influx of thousands of people, including some 2,000 minors.
“This is an act of defiance,” Pedro Sánchez told the Spanish parliament on Wednesday. “The lack of border control by Morocco is not a lack of respect for Spain, but for the European Union.”
The massive 36-hour crossing took place in a context of intensifying tensions with Morocco over Madrid’s decision to allow the leader of the Western Sahara independence movement to be treated by Covid-19 in Spain.
As Spain scrambled to tackle the humanitarian crisis, deploying its army, military vehicles and an additional 200 police officers to patrol the border, Sánchez promised swift action. “We will proceed to return immediately – I repeat, return immediately – to all those who have entered Ceuta and Melilla in an irregular manner,” he said, citing provisions contained in a long-standing bilateral agreement with Morocco.
The agreement, however, stipulates exceptions for vulnerable groups such as minors, people with disabilities, pregnant women and asylum seekers. It also establishes a process that specifies that migrants must be identified before being returned.
Rafael Escudero, of the Spanish Network for Aid to Immigration and Refugees, said the frenzied pace of returns suggested that Spanish officials were ignoring these provisions. “The math doesn’t work,” he said. “Even if there were 4,000 police officers on the ground, it would take at least 4,000 minutes to collect data and take a statement. They are dozens of hours … They are carrying out summary deportations ”.
The concerns are echoed by reports from journalists at the scene. The Associated Press said its reporters saw Spanish military personnel and police leading adults and children through a gate in the border fence. Those who resisted were pushed and chased by soldiers who used batons to rush them, he said.
Spain’s Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska has denied that unaccompanied minors are being deported in violation of Spanish law, but the ministry has not provided details on how the rights of migrants are protected.
Spain’s hardline approach has been praised by far-right Italian politician Matteo Salvini On twitter, and EU officials have backed Spain. “The EU stands in solidarity with Ceuta and Spain”, Ursula von der Leyen, president of the EU commission, said on Twitter on Tuesday.
The commission’s vice-president, Margaritis Schinas, took a tougher stance and told Spanish radio station RTVE: “No one can intimidate or blackmail the European Union. Ceuta is Europe, this border is a European border and what happens is not a problem for Madrid, but a problem for everyone ”.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism