Najat keeps two relics in her small black bag that always accompany her. The first, a gold photo frame with a photo of her little brother, Youssef. The other, a newspaper clipping from the day of her death, February 14, 2010. The two are part of a humble family from Sidi Ifni, the former Spanish colony on the Moroccan west coast. In October 2008, the young man left home without saying anything and three days later he called on the phone. He had crossed in a boat to Lanzarote with some of his friends.
Najat remembers that day and still throws his head in his hands. “We thought that he had gone to the fields with his grandparents to work,” he says. In one hand he holds an album full of pictures of his brother. With the other he carries his son, little Youssef, who bears the name of his uncle.
When he arrived in the Canary Islands, the young Saharawi was 16 years old, so he was transferred to an emergency resource for unaccompanied foreign minors in Tenerife enabled in the midst of the cayuco crisis. In the Nivaria, located in La Esperanza, he barely spent 20 days. “He was on the second floor. A friend of his told me that another minor was encouraging him to smoke and take drugs. He didn’t want to and after that argument he fell out of the building’s window”. Najat still cries every time he remembers it.
He fell into a coma and spent a year admitted to the University Hospital of the Canary Islands (HUC), in Tenerife. Najat was in Sidi Ifni when the Moroccan Consulate contacted her to travel to Spain to be with her brother. She did not separate from him for a single day, while her parents were still in Morocco waiting for good news.
Twelve months after Youssef entered the hospital, Najat traveled home again to care for his parents. A few days after landing, the pitcher of cold water arrived. “They called me and told me that my brother had died. I didn’t understand, when I left him he was still breathing. The death of the young Saharawi made headlines in several local newspapers. “The minor from the Maghreb who suffered a serious fall in Nivaria dies in the hospital.”
“That same year, out of desperation, my father also died,” he says. Father and son were able to be buried together in their place of origin. After the death of his brother, Najat returned to Spain to “do justice”. There are many questions that crowd in the mind of women. Among them, if her brother fell or if he was pushed in an argument. She has had several lawyers in these 14 years, but she still has no answers. “I need someone to help me find out what happened to Youssef,” she insists.
The “hell” of the Nivaria
A report by the Human Right Watch organization describes the Nivaria as one of the largest emergency centers that opened in the Canary Islands in the summer of 2006, together with a resource installed in Arinaga, in Gran Canaria. It had capacity for 200 people.
The conclusions of a visit by this NGO to the La Esperanza resort warn of “serious abuse and mistreatment” in one of the wings of the building. “The children we interviewed suggest that there would have been widespread and very serious beatings during the last five months of 2006,” the organization said at the time. “The children described the upper floor as a punishment cell, where they were beaten and locked up for periods of up to several days,” HRW said.
As a consequence of the “hostile” climate that surrounded this center, one hundred minors escaped from the resource in September 2006 as a form of protest. “They were immediately taken back by the police,” says the Human Right Watch report. “We were so fed up that we all said we wanted to leave the center. The director alerted the police and soon they caught us and took us back to the center. Then they treated us as if we were criminals,” a minor told the NGO.
In 2010, the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office of Santa Cruz de Tenerife requested a hundred years in prison for two Nivaria directors for serious torture in the La Esperanza complex between 2002 and 2004, before it was an emergency resource. The Prosecutor’s Office also requested compensation of 10,000 euros for each victim for harassment, beatings and humiliation.
The local media then echoed the accusations against the directors of this center for discriminating against foreign minors because of their nationality. “They forced the minors to undress and squat, carrying out degrading actions, imposing physical punishments such as beating them and shackling their hands behind their backs and tying their handcuffs to a shelf,” the Public Prosecutor’s Office stated in its letter.