These days there are more characters in the streets of Ceuta than usual who seem to have escaped from the works of Mohamed Chukri. Dozens of children wander aimlessly in search of a crust that lands on their stomach or a makeshift mattress on which to drop their bones. Many have escaped from makeshift emergency shelters from which they fear being repatriated. That fear has skyrocketed since Madrid and Rabat sealed a pact that they launched last Friday at a rate of 15 transfers to the border per day.
Chukri, the uncomfortable Moroccan writer who died in 2003, radiographed in Dry bread not only their sordid existence but that of thousands of citizens who make street fighting their way of life. It doesn’t matter that the Rabat authorities had the book banned for years. Everyone knows that chukri they have always existed. One of them is Mohamed, 17, the son of an imam from El Jebha, a coastal town halfway between Tetouan and Al Hoceima, not far from the writer’s native village. In that port, the boy tells that he earned the odd threat of salary among the catches of the fishing boats before crossing to Ceuta almost three months ago. He shows a mobile phone with a Moroccan card with which he says that he sometimes contacts his family.
More than laziness or pasotism, what emerges is the kid’s mistrust in the presence of a journalist who, despite the camera and the notebook, has to assure several times between so many questions that he is not a policeman who is going to spoil the party.
“Cochillas”. This is the only word he utters when the reporter asks him about his injury. The cut of several centimeters, with the blood still fresh, that he presents on the ring finger of his right hand says that it is the memory left by the barbed wire when he escaped from the Piniers camp. It is an esplanade surrounded by concrete walls and barbed wire where hundreds of Moroccan minors remain out of the more than 700 who stayed in the autonomous city after the arrival between May 17 and 18 of some 10,000 Moroccans in an irregular manner. Piniers is next to the Ceuta prison and, from the outside, it looks like that, a prison.
Mohamed is listened to by his colleague Usama, also 17 years old, from Tetouan and also escaped from Piniers. Both have found the shade and the soft rubber floor under the slide of a children’s playground in the place known as the old Quemadero bridge, behind the neighborhood of the Prince. They are convinced that on the Spanish side of the border, despite the current difficult situation, life will be easier. They do not aspire to unattainable dreams. In fact, his wishes are summed up in studying, working, helping support his family …
Four other kids appear heading down the road, all from Tetuán, 40 kilometers from Ceuta. They end up looking at Mohamed’s wound. One of them, who wears a Barcelona player Dembelé shirt and is also called Mohamed (16 years old), makes a gesture to show that he is no less. He then shows the thumb of his left hand, which has a similar cut and made in the same way. The four newcomers have also set foot in the dust from the Piniers shelter upon hearing that the expulsions to Morocco had begun.
Three left on Friday and spent the night borrowing in a shack in the Hadú neighborhood, but they say that the owner did not give them more accommodation. They are the aforementioned Mohamed, Eisa (15) and Ayman (16). The other, Mohamed (15), escaped from Piniers on Saturday. This is the only one of all who wears a mask. “Why didn’t they kick us out the first day and want to kick us out now?” Asks Eisa, the son of a plasterer, on the grounds of the rights supposedly acquired during these three months in Spain. “Morocco is a country of plugs where after studying a career you end up as a waiter or taxi driver”, emphasizes one of the Mohamed.
They say rumors of the repatriations began to reach them in the middle of the week, even before the first 15 were sent across the border on Friday. They are not even kids from Piniers, since those chosen so far by the Ministry of the Interior are from those taken in at the Santa Amelia sports center. But the minors interpret that, once the process has started, it can be their turn at any time. “Many have already left,” says one of them without knowing how to assess the number of those who have left the shelter. The figure on Saturday afternoon was about 80, that is, more than 10% of those taken in in the different resources for minors in Ceuta.
The street takes its toll
Late at night, a Local Police car circles the roundabout. Some of the kids get restless and race to hide behind the fences of a construction site. Others do not flinch, implying that they almost do not care. The agents pass by. Ayman, exhausted, yawns repeatedly. In short, he sits on the ground leaning his back on the colorful fence of the park. It doesn’t take long to hit the first nods on her knees using her arms as a pillow.
The reporter photographs the scene and the laughter of those present breaks the sleeplessness. Ayman is not the only one who, jaded, suggests that having escaped from the shelter in order not to be repatriated forces him to pay other tolls. Where to sleep? What to eat How to get clothes? Achieving the basics is a feat for a single child who is also out of his country. The street immediately takes its toll on these apprentices of chukri.
The weather is merciless despite the mild wind of August that softens the nights in the Strait of Gibraltar. Three kilometers from where the Piniers escapees dream of a new and better life, reality has been ruthlessly prevailing for years. The passage of time has hardened to failure the children who, without shelter or anything similar, flit day and night around the port of Ceuta. They look for an opportunity to sneak into one of the boats that cross to the Andalusian shore.
They are souls lost for decades in the funnel of the border between Africa and Europe. Perennial regardless of the ups and downs of relations between Madrid and Rabat. Faced with those scruffy guides who risk their lives every day trying to sneak into the trailer of a trailer or the underside of a bus, those who swam last May are beginners. The ignorance that reigns in the playground leads one of the kids to point his hand at the horizon while saying: “Tomorrow, Peninsula.”
Not two hours have passed since the bold statement when several of the protagonists of this report try to back down. The phrase “To the center we do not return or the dead” has evaporated. At dawn that gives way to Sunday, the Piniers door is an anthill of half a dozen kids who want to recover their cot even if it is walls and fences inside. Following instructions above, the security guards cannot let you return in the middle of the night. “I want to go back to Morocco,” one of them implores the journalist.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.