The bride and groom, the witnesses and most of the documentation required to get married. With almost everything necessary to start the marriage process, J. presented himself at the Civil Registry of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria on August 10. She had requested a face-to-face appointment a month before, but she did not count on the odyssey that it would be for her to obtain the literal birth certificate, a document that her partner processed electronically in the same day. Both have Spanish nationality, but there is a point that differentiates them: the place of birth. While her partner was born in the Canary Islands, J. (who prefers that his full name not be used) was in 1968 one of the babies of Canarian parents who went to work in El Aaiún (capital of Western Sahara) when it was a colony from Spain. On her DNI it says that his nationality is Spanish, but this summer she has discovered that your place of birth carries with it a series of bureaucratic problems.
The resistance of the Saharawis to the Moroccan occupation in El Aaiún: “Here it is very difficult to live, they force you to be silent”
The man tells this newsroom that, when he checked what the requirements were to start the marriage process, his partner had no problem processing his literal birth certificate at the electronic headquarters of the Ministry of Justice. He later tried the same thing with his digital certificate. The process required him to enter the “country of birth” and, when choosing Spain, each of the provinces and autonomous cities were displayed as options, in addition to a field that read “former territories of Spanish sovereignty”. This is a section in which he disagrees since his birthplace, he insists, “is the Sahara.” However, despite the fact that this option is granted at the beginning of the procedure, the request cannot be completed since there comes a time when when trying to “create the request”, the Ministry of Justice form requires the incorporation of new data such as the civil registry of birth registration, a point that “it is impossible to fill in for those of us who were born in the Sahara”, he points out.
When the affected person is asked about the country where he was registered at birth, he understands that he must enter “Spain”, because “it is the only option available for those born in the Sahara before 1975 and it is also the only real one. They are not available in the dropdown or Sahara nor ”Former territories of Spanish sovereignty’”. For this reason, he chose the “Spain” option and subsequently a new field called “registration province” was opened. At this point, he shows how all the current Spanish provinces are detailed and, therefore, “it is not possible to choose the Sahara option”, so that “There is always a field that is impossible to fill in and it is not possible to create the request”, the Mint.
With this pending bureaucratic problem, he arrived at the appointment at the Civil Registry of Las Palmas. That August 10, the couple and the witnesses asked permission from their jobs to be able to attend this start of such an important process for them. However, explaining that it was impossible to deliver one of the literal birth certificates, he affirms that they urged him to deliver the missing documentation within the next 20 days, a date that he does not consider to be consistent with the procedures and that he will not be able to comply given the obstacles to accessing said certificate.
The path to the Central Civil Registry
J. claims to have detected ignorance in the Civil Registry of Las Palmas about his situation. He insists that he is a citizen with Spanish nationality, but born in a territory that is no longer Spanish. He points out that, once he left this appointment, he called the Central Civil Registry, where the literal birth certificates of those born in El Aaiún before 1975 were supposedly sent. In that body, he assures that they urged him to process his request electronically . When explaining the impossibility of completing said procedure due to these obstacles when selecting the place of birth, they informed him that the only possibility is to request it in person in Madrid by appointment or by post, a procedure that does not know how much it may take time, since they have also informed you that it will be sent to you by the same means. This very week, he has sent this request through the Post Office, although he is not entirely convinced that it will give results soon.
According to the website of the Central Civil Registry, it registers “Spanish citizens born abroad, foreigners who acquire Spanish nationality, birth and adoption that occurred abroad, changes in nationality and residence of people born in the abroad, the marriage celebrated abroad between Spaniards or between persons who subsequently acquire Spanish nationality, the secret marriage, the death of Spaniards occurring abroad or the death of persons of foreign nationality who died in the service of the Armed Forces”. Therefore, Spanish citizens born in the Sahara before 1975 do not appear among the assumptions. For this reason, J. remains uncertain as to whether this document is found in that registry. In addition, he explains that he was unaware that we can all transfer our birth certificate to another registry at least once in our lives.
J. feels that he is being deprived of his place of birth, since “former territories of Spanish sovereignty” is not a place that exists as such. In addition, he has another administrative battle to deal with, since in the municipal register of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria he appears as “born in Morocco” something unreal and that he considers falsifies the statistics.
Complaint to the Ombudsman
This citizen of Gran Canaria has already sent a complaint to the Ombudsman accompanied by documentation where his ID is appreciated and how it highlights that his place of birth is El Aaiún, Sahara, and his Spanish nationality. In the complaint he attaches a series of screenshots about the entire electronic process to try to request the Literal Birth Certificate and the obstacles encountered along the way that have concluded without being able to finish the application in this way. “Any Spanish citizen can request a birth certificate through the electronic headquarters of the Ministry of Justice (either obtaining it immediately if possible with the available data, or creating an application with the available data, which will be attended by the Ministry of Justice and sent the certificate later) except if you were born in the Sahara”, he reproaches.
“We Spaniards who were born in the Sahara when it was Spanish cannot complete the application through the form established for it, so we are forced to use the Electronic Registry of the General State Administration and locate the General Directorate to which we have to send a ‘manual’ request prepared by ourselves, since in the Electronic Headquarters of the Ministry of Justice not even a general request has been enabled for cases like the one in question”, continues the citizen in his complaint.
In his brief he alludes to article 14 of the Spanish Constitution, which establishes that “Spaniards are equal before the law, without any discrimination based on birth being prevailing…” And he adds that “the Ministry of Justice, in its forms for requesting certificates, discriminates against those of us who were born in the Sahara precisely by reason of birth”, since the “place of birth is the reason why we do not have access to the same benefits offered by the Ministry of Justice in its Electronic Headquarters”. This newsroom has twice sent a questionnaire on this matter to said ministry which, for the time being, has not responded to the doubts raised.
The Canarian colony in the Sahara
The links between the Canary Islands and the Sahara are historical. The doctor in History Beatriz Andreu Mediero recalls in the article The Canarian colony in Western Sahara. From its origins to decolonization that, according to the 1967 census, of the total foreign population (9,395 people) in the Sahara, 35% (3,317) had been born in the Canary Islands, while 51% (4,798) had been born in other Spanish provinces, 5% (434) in other points abroad and 6% in the Sahara, among whom many were children of Canarians. Despite the fact that canaries from all the islands lived there, it was those from the eastern islands who, due to their proximity, contributed the most to swell the local census. “Thus, the Sahara was a claim for numerous Canarians who established companies or businesses there and who marched as merchants, representatives, employees of Spanish and foreign companies, masons, electricians, carriers, teachers, childminders, shop assistants or fishermen,” he recalls. Article.
The historian highlights in that document that the reasons for going to the Sahara were generally economic. “Work was sought and break with the agricultural destiny of the islands” since the salaries there were much higher; “looking for a future”. She points out that the socio-economic context of the Canary Islands compared to the Peninsula was different, so that while for “peninsulars it meant a delay in terms of quality of life for a family, for the Canary it meant an improvement.” She points out that the adaptation “was very good and fast in the case of canaries, both because of the predisposition and because of the similarity of the environment.” The article also refers to the return, which began with the announcement of the abandonment and the tension in the territory, especially in El Ayoun. For many Canarians, the evacuation caught them by surprise. Gran Canaria was the main reception point for the thousands of Spaniards who were there. “In general, they remember the evacuation as a fracture in their lives, since they thought they would grow old there. The return had a psychological and economic impact for almost everyone”, concludes the historian.