Government sends 116 migrants who jumped fence back to Morocco

The immediate deportations were made based on a 1992 agreement signed between Spain and the North African country

One of the 119 Sub-Saharan Africans who jumped the Ceuta border fence on Wednesday.
One of the 119 Sub-Saharan Africans who jumped the Ceuta border fence on Wednesday.JOAQUIN SANCHEZ (AFP)

The Spanish government has sent back to Morocco the 116 Sub-Saharan migrants who managed to get over the border fence on Wednesday at the Spanish North African exclave city of Ceuta, police sources have told EL PAÍS.

The operation is based on an agreement that Spain and Morocco signed in 1992 on the readmission of foreigners who illegally enter Spanish territory. In the document, Morocco agreed to readmit nationals from third countries who enter Spain illegally, if there is a “formal request from [Spanish] authorities.”

Around 300 migrants rushed the border on Wednesday, throwing quicklime, battery acid and feces at officers

Around 300 migrants rushed the border in Ceuta on Wednesday, using shears to cut the fence and throwing quicklime, battery acid and feces at officers. They breached the fence at Finca Berrocal, one of the weakest sections and the location of another incident in July when more than 600 undocumented migrants made it through into the city.

The Spanish government contacted the authorities in Rabat to reactivate the mechanism of express deportations after the July incident. Spanish ministers requested that Morocco take back migrants in the case of another mass assault on the border, like the one seen on Wednesday. Rabat accepted the request, but the deal had been kept secret until now.

Interior Ministry sources admitted today that the usual procedure is for migrants to be returned to their country of origin, not the country that they entered Spain from. However, the 1992 deal includes the possibility of sending them back to the point of entry. “The key point is that they entered from Morocco, even though they are not Moroccan,” the same sources explained.

The deal with Rabat had been kept secret until now

The ministry sources added that this is not the first time the measure has been applied, although other occasions have been “few.” Police sources in Ceuta recall such deportations under the 1992 deal, but not on the scale of this one. In fact, since December 2017 there have been several mass assaults by between 300 and 600 people, but this agreement had not been used up until now.

“On this occasion, it was thanks to the good relationship with Morocco,” Interior Ministry sources said, pointing out that the border entry on Wednesday was “illegal and violent.” “Legally this is different from the rescues that happen at sea,” they added. In that case, international law obliges rescue services to save lives and take migrants to a safe port.

The application of the 1992 deal saw the 116 men subject to an “express” deportation. They were taken to the police station in Ceuta, “they had legal assistance, and were given a deportation order.” This is different from the so-called “hot deportations,” when migrants are simply turned around after they cross the fence and sent straight back into Moroccan territory.

“This is extremely drastic,” activist Reduan Mohamed said on Thursday about the immediate deportations, explaining that the unexpected decision had caused “a mass” of migrants who were in the local Temporary Immigration Detention Center (CETI) to flee due to fears they were about to be sent back to neighboring Morocco.

So far, the deportations have only involved the migrants who arrived in Ceuta on Wednesday, but there are more than 1,000 people in the CETI (which has a capacity for just 512), the majority of whom arrived by jumping over the border.

In October 2017, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled that Spain had violated the European Human Rights Convention when it deported two migrants from Mali and the Ivory Coast, who crossed the border fence dividing Morocco and Spain. Spain was ordered to pay each of the migrants €5,000 in damages. The Spanish government has since filed an appeal against the ruling, arguing that there “was no expulsion, but rather prevention of entry.”

English version by Simon Hunter.

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