The Andalusian government wants Madrid and Rabat to negotiate the return of underage migrants to Morocco. The move comes as the southern Spanish region struggles to cope with growing immigration flows that have led to overcrowded centers.
At a meeting scheduled for Wednesday between regional and central government leaders, Andalusian representatives will insist on the need to redistribute the more than 2,500 migrant minors currently in their care by sending some of them to centers in other parts of Spain. But regional authorities also want the administration of Socialist Party (PSOE) Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to work on the diplomatic front, to open up the possibility of sending some of these underage migrants back to Morocco.
A throwback to 2006
In 2006, an influx of migrant boats dubbed "cayucos" resulted in 30,000 new arrivals in the Canary Islands. Of these, 700 were unaccompanied minors. Unable to cope, the Canaries' government pressured the central administration for a more equal distribution among Spain's regions. Nearly 500 underage migrants were flown to the peninsula, and several regions took in the newcomers after receiving state funding for each one of them.
Of the more than 7,000 minors currently in the care of Spain’s regional governments, nearly 70% are Moroccan nationals. Existing laws already include a protocol for their repatriation, but in practice it is not being implemented due to lack of cooperation from Morocco and other countries of origin.
The last word on returns lies with the prosecutors in charge of each case, but one prosecutor who works with underage migrants on a daily basis said that “if Moroccan authorities can guarantee that the children will go back to a safe environment and conditions, the prosecution would not hinder their return.”
Andalusian officials want to reactivate a 2007 bilateral agreement between Spain and Morocco, by virtue of which Rabat pledged to help identify migrant minors and their families. The agreement went into effect in October 2012 but it was never effectively implemented.
This is not the first time that Spain has invoked an old agreement with Morocco on immigration issues. Last month, the Spanish government immediately sent back 116 Sub-Saharan migrants who had managed to cross the Ceuta border fence. The operation was based on an agreement that Spain and Morocco signed in 1992 on the readmission of foreigners who illegally enter Spanish territory, and it was a rare instance of express deportations.
The Andalusian government is also proposing that the central government take charge of the migrants until their age is determined by a medical bone scan. Regional authorities are currently spending €45 million a year to operate 208 centers for minors.
Authorities in Melilla, a Spanish city located along the northern coast of Africa, also support migrant returns. The city is now caring for nearly 800 underage migrants even though it only has the infrastructure for 260. “Around 60% of minors in Melilla come here with ID documents, and some even cross the border with their parents,” said Daniel Ventura, the city councilor for welfare issues. “I’m still wondering how in those cases we are unable to return them to Moroccan authorities.”
But non-profit groups such as Save the Children have expressed concern over the idea. “Many of these children were already living in the streets in Morocco, or else their families cannot support them,” said the group’s director, Andrés Conde. “We need to guarantee that each case will be dealt with individually to ensure that the children will be safe back home.”
English version by Susana Urra.