A court in Ceuta ruled on Monday to suspend for 72 hours the repatriation of migrant minors who crossed irregularly into the Spanish exclave city in May, when lax border controls in Morocco saw more than 10,000 people breach the territory.
While most of the migrants who entered in May have been sent back, around 740 minors remain in Ceuta under Spain’s care. But the Spanish Interior Ministry on Friday struck a deal with Morocco to repatriate these youngsters to the North African country. Under the agreement, around 15 unaccompanied migrant minors would be sent back every day until all 740 were returned – a process expected to take two months. The repatriations began on Friday, and since then, around 45 of these youngsters have been sent to Morocco.
The law requires each minor‘s case to be assessed individually, but this has not happened, according to Save the Children
But the move to send the youngsters back to Morocco – a country with a poor human rights record – has been met with fierce criticism from activist groups, the public prosecutor and within the government itself.
In a bid to halt the repatriations of five migrant teens, the community association Coordinadora de Barrios (Neighborhood Coordination) on Monday requested a writ of habeas corpus – a recourse through which a person can report an unlawful detention or imprisonment and ask that the detainee be brought to court to determine whether their detention is lawful.
The administrative court in Ceuta ruled against the request, arguing that the minors were not unlawfully detained, but did agree to suspend the repatriations for three days while it requested more information about the process.
“We have just been told that the habeas corpus writ presented for five boys has not been accepted, that the case will be shelved, and that, as a precautionary measure from the court, we are going to be 72 hours [without repatriations] because they have asked for explanations on the process from the pertinent authorities: the Interior Ministry and the government delegation [in Ceuta],” said Maribel Deu, the deputy leader of Ceuta.
The decision to deport the migrant minors in Ceuta has been strongly opposed by various groups, which argue it violates the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was ratified by Spain in 1990, and the 2000 immigration law, which states that protection services and the public prosecutor must issue a report before a minor can be deported.
But while the law requires each case to be assessed individually, this has not happened for the minors who have been sent back so far, a spokesperson from Save the Children told EL PAÍS. This organization has been tasked by the Ceuta government to conduct interviews with the youngsters and write up reports on whether they should be repatriated. Since May, Save the Children has interviewed 350 minors and collected testimonies of sexual violence, work exploitation, forced marriage and criminal and human trafficking networks.
Joining the storm of criticism is the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which asked the Spanish government on Monday to stop the deportations of at least nine minors at the request of the charities Save the Children, Andalucía Acoge (Andalusia Welcomes) and Gentium. It has also requested more information about the process, which has been criticized by the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR and the minor’s department of the Ceuta government.
The central government, a coalition of the Socialist Party (PSOE) and junior partner Unidas Podemos, even faces opposition from within its own ranks. On Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Yolanda Díaz, of the latter party, sent a letter to Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, calling on the PSOE leader to “intervene” to stop the repatriations. In the letter, Díaz expressed the concern that the process could lead to possible “rights violations.” Interior Minister Fernando Grande Marlaska, of the PSOE, however, continues to defend the agreement. Speaking to the Cadena SER radio network on Monday, he described the deportations as “assisted returns,” and said that no “vulnerable minor” will be returned to Morocco.
With reporting by Patricia Ortega Dolz and Paula Chouza.
English version by Melissa Kitson.