Spain criticised for repatriating hundreds of Moroccan minors after migration crisis

International organisation Save the Children urged Spain on Saturday to halt the repatriation of hundreds of unaccompanied minors to Morocco, who were among thousands of migrants to cross into the Spanish enclave of Ceuta three months ago.

Spain criticised for repatriating hundreds of Moroccan minors after migration crisis
Photo by Antonio Sempere / AFP

The international NGO accused Madrid of failing to protect the rights of the children.

Up to 10,000 migrants flooded across the border in North Africa into Ceuta over several days in May as Moroccan border guards stood aside.

This was widely seen as retaliation for Spain’s decision to host Brahim Ghali, leader of the Polisario Front, a movement demanding Western Sahara be independent from Morocco, for medical treatment.

Spain on Friday began sending back more than 700 unaccompanied minors to Morocco.

“Repatriations from Ceuta continue today,” Save the Children posted on Twitter Saturday.

The NGO called “for an end” to these. “Spain is not guaranteeing the protection of minors,” it said.

READ ALSO: What happens to the thousands of undocumented migrants after they arrive in Spain?

The interior ministry has not officially announced the repatriations, and was not immediately available when contacted by AFP.

Ione Belarra, leader of the far-left Podemos, the junior member of Spain’s ruling coalition, also criticised the transfers in a letter to Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska.

“We have been informed by children’s organisations on the ground that the repatriation of minors has begun,” she wrote in the letter published in online daily El Confidencial.

She said that the operation might be taking place “without strict observance” of various Spanish and international laws.

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France seeks EU deal with Britain on illegal immigration

France wants a new post-Brexit accord between Britain and the European Union on handling illegal immigration, in the wake of the disaster in the Channel last week that left 27 migrants dead, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on Monday.

A member of the UK Border Force (R) helps people on a beach in Dungeness
A member of the UK Border Force (R) helps people on a beach in Dungeness on the south-east coast of England, on November 24, 2021, after they were rescued while crossing the English Channel. The past three years have seen a significant rise in attempted Channel crossings by migrants, despite warnings of the dangers in the busy shipping lane between northern France and southern England. Ben STANSALL / AFP

He called for a “balanced” accord that would offer “a real solution” for dealing with highly organised trafficking networks often spread across France, Belgium, Germany and other countries.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex will write to his British counterpart Boris Johnson on Tuesday to outline the agreement, Darmanin added.

The deal could include ways to ensure unaccompanied minors can safely reach Britain to rejoin family, instead of putting themselves at the mercy of traffickers.

But he rejected proposals that would see Britain unilaterally force migrant boats back to France, saying it was against international maritime law and would put people’s lives in danger.

“We cannot accept this practice,” he said.

Earlier on Monday Darmanin urged Britain on Monday to open a legal route for asylum seekers in order to prevent
people risking their lives by taking small boats across the Channel to England.

“Great Britain needs to open up a legal immigration route” because “at the moment anyone who wants to ask for asylum has no other choice but to cross the Channel,” Darmanin said in an interview with the RMC/BFM media group.

French officials have already suggested that British immigration officials process asylum requests in northern France from migrants camped out around the major ports on France’s coast.

Darmanin convened fellow ministers responsible for immigration from Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium on Sunday for talks about the Channel migrant crisis, four days after an unprecedented accident saw 27 people drown in the busy sea lane.

They met without Britain which was excluded after a row last week between British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Darmanin again blamed Britain for the presence of thousands of migrants in northern France, alleging that more relaxed labour practices on the other side of the Channel were creating a “pull effect” tempting migrants across in hope of finding work.

Many migrants around Calais also say they want to travel to the UK because they speak some English already, or have family and friends in the country.

Around 26,000 people have sailed from France to England this year, leading to severe pressure on the UK government which had vowed to reduce migration after pushing through Britain’s departure from the European Union.

Johnson has suggested sending police and border agents to patrol alongside their French counterparts on the beaches of northern France — something rejected by Paris in the past as an infringement on sovereignty.

More controversially, he proposed sending back all migrants who land in England, a move which Johnson claimed would save “thousands of lives by fundamentally breaking the business model of the criminal gangs”.

France received 80,000 asylum requests in 2020 compared with 27,000 in the UK.

Investigations into last Wednesday’s accident continue, with French police giving no details officially about the circumstances or the identities of the victims.

A total of 17 men, seven women and three minors died, with migrants living along the coast telling AFP that the deceased were mostly Iraqis, Iranians and Afghans.