Spanish enclave in north Africa identifies 438 unaccompanied children and teenagers

Hundreds of children and teenagers are crammed into warehouses or sleeping rough in city parks in the Spanish north African enclave of Ceuta as their fate remains up in the air days after thousands of migrants arrived in the city.

More than 8,000 migrants last week crossed into the seven-square mile territory – 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 attempting the crossing.

About 7,000 of those who crossed into Spain have since been sent back across the border, according to Spanish officials, but the city has identified 438 children and teenagers who arrived unaccompanied by adults and more are being rounded up as social services workers scour the city’s parks and streets.

“We’re working to address the issue of children who have come alone,” Spain’s minister for social rights, Ione Belarra told Spanish broadcaster RTVE. “It’s important to understand that we’re seeing children that are much younger than the usual – children of seven, eight, nine years old.”

Many of them have been sent to warehouses turned into shelters in order to carry out 10 days of coronavirus quarantine under police watch.

Several minors who have managed to slip out of the warehouses have complained that the crowded, inadequate facilities meant that they had gone days without hot meals – surviving instead on provisions such as apples, yogurt and sandwiches – while a lack of beds had left many of them sleeping on the floor.

“I would prefer to sleep in an abandoned car, like I did the first few days here. It’s more comfortable, ” one youth told “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 had stopped working.

Officials in Ceuta did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Many more minors are believed to be sleeping rough in parks and on the streets of Ceuta without any financial resources or adult supervision. Officials in the city of 85,000 have pleaded for help from Spain’s regions. “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 launched a hotline to reunite children with their families, 4,400 calls came flooding in within its first day of operation, Mabel Deu, another of the city’s deputy leaders, told reporters on Friday.

Staff are working “morning, noon and night,” as desperate relatives call in hopes of tracking down their loved ones, she said. “The goal is to reunite these minors with their families as soon as possible, because we understand the worry and anguish of many families who don’t know where their children are,” said Deu. Under Spanish law, minors remain the care of regional authorities until their relatives can be located or until they come of age.

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, said Deu. Some, like one 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 your parents can’t work, the education 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 crucial that authorities ensure it is safe and appropriate for the children’s development and rights,” the organisation said in statement.

Amnesty International, addressing reports that Spain had been sending children back across the border without due process, said. “Amnesty is reminding the authorities that they must ensure 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 organisation also slammed Morocco over its actions at the border. “Morocco is playing with people’s lives,” said Virginia Álvarez, of Amnesty. “They must not use people, among them its own citizens, as pawns in a political game.”

Officials in Rabat have suggested the lax border controls were linked 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 one taken for “strictly humanitarian reasons”.

Analysts have characterised Morocco’s actions as part of a push by an emboldened Rabat to have European states recognise its claim to the Western Sahara. In December, Donald Trump’s US administration became the first western country to recognise Morocco’s claim in a deal aimed at normalising relations between Israel and Morocco.

Source : Young journalists Club