The Maakum volunteers had been on alert for several days. Some statements by the Government delegate in Ceuta indicated that something could happen soon with the Moroccan minors who arrived in the city during the diplomatic crisis with Morocco last May. On Friday, August 13, they were the first to confirm the suspicions. Their mobiles were filled with messages from the reception center in Santa Amelia. Returns began.
Justice stops the return from Ceuta of nine Moroccan minors
Lawyers and volunteers from different NGOs, who began to work in coordination with the arrival in Ceuta in May, organized again from different parts of Spain with one objective: to paralyze repatriations that, they warned, did not comply with the guarantees. They are part of Maakum, No Name Kitchen, Neighborhood Coordinator, Fundación Raíces, Andalucía Acoge, Elín, Gentium or Save The Children, among others; but in these months they have worked as one. Three days after the return operation began, a Ceutí court agreed with them. Returns were temporarily halted.
“Since May we have been coordinating several organizations. Some that work in the field, doing street work; others that work in Morocco, that were informing us about the situation of the families of some of the boys and girls that we were identifying as more vulnerable, and others, most of us who are not physically in Ceuta, but who can offer legal support and defense of children’s rights “, describes Lourdes Reyzabal, president of Fundación Raíces. “For all this, we set up several meetings, a WhatsApp chat for general coordination and a folder in Drive shared by all where we can upload all the documentation, writings, task assignments, case assignments … And always our eyes and our hands for contact with the kids were the local associations “, he adds.
One of those eyes were those of Joana Millán, from Maakum, a small collective created in 2018. At around 1:00 p.m. on August 13, the social educator learned that something strange was happening at the Santa Amelia sports center. “They begin to warn us that national police were arriving and asking that part of the minors be separated so that the rest of the children do not see the performance,” explains from Ceuta Millán, who is one of the founders of the association. “It was all very strange. It was said that they would take some children out to do a PCR but, when they asked more, there were no answers. It began to show that they were going to start returning the children,” he says.
Then began “a fight against the clock.” While the Maakum activists tried in extremis to contact the Moroccan adolescents who were going to be expelled, lawyers from Madrid were preparing legal documents to request emergency measures from the courts, the Ombudsman or the UN. Once registered, local volunteers ran to the court and to the border to alert that they had initiated a procedure and try to prevent their return before the appeal was studied.
“We were unable to access the Santa Amelia sports center, but we did contact the kids through social networks to create legal strategies so that minors could be appointed as lawyers in order to prevent their return,” adds Millán, 28. , which explains that the first two days it was impossible to get an answer in time from the court “despite teaching the police that they had lawyers.”
Inma González, a lawyer and social integration technician from Andalucía Acoge, describes those early days as “chaotic and very worrying.” “We have been at the foot of the canyon with Maakum, No Name Kitchen and Elín trying to be in contact with minors inside and outside the sports center, going to the border to see what exactly was happening and making public complaints,” explains the lawyer.
From Madrid, the lawyer Patricia Fernández Vicens learned of the beginning of the deportations by the companions who were on the ground. “The handover to the Moroccan authorities was done very quickly. The first day we did not have time to act. In view of the fact that the same operation was repeated on Saturday, we had already started to work. And thanks to the colleagues who were in Ceuta We informed the children of what was happening and explained to them that if they did not want to leave, they could appoint us as lawyers, “explains the Barrios Coordinator lawyer, who has been working with migrant children for 20 years.
On Saturday August 14, several minors appointed them as lawyers, so that Coordinadora de Barrios and Fundación Raíces asked the court for the first stoppage, with the aim of stopping Sunday’s returns. “But we did not arrive on time,” laments Fernández. Before processing the case, the minors had already been expelled. “That is why the work of the companions who were in Ceuta was essential. They had to stand at the door of the court to explain that it was urgent, to get the contacts of the kids …”.
All that effort had its result this Monday. The Contentious-Administrative Court number 1 of Ceuta paralyzed the return of nine Moroccan minors who were to be returned between Monday and Tuesday. According to the order, the returns of children and adolescents without procedure, such as those that the judge says were taking place, violate the legislation. The paralysis of this group of returns led to the temporary suspension of returns, which has been maintained to date.
This Friday, the State Attorney has supported before the Ceutí court the legality of proceeding to return the minors to Morocco through the 2007 Agreement signed with Rabat due to the “exceptional situation” that the Spanish city is experiencing after the migratory crisis of May. In its brief of allegations, to which Europa Press has had access, the State Lawyers see defects of form in the appeal presented by two NGOs in the courts of Ceuta that paralyzed the repatriation of a group of minors.
The Gipuzkoan Amaia Ochoa, a 25-year-old philologist and a master’s degree student in Migration, arrived in the city at the end of July and is part of the team of four No Name Kitchen volunteers currently deployed in Ceuta, where they carry out, among others, work of “accompaniment” and advice to minors and adults who are in a street situation.
“In the street there is much more tension since the returns began: it always exists, because the migrants are aware of their situation and that something would happen, but not so soon,” he describes the change perceived in recent days. “We are also seeing that milkmaids of the National Police are maintaining a much greater presence in the areas where the kids are, although the agents sometimes do not even get out of the vehicles, but they are there I do not know if to give fear or create insecurity, “he adds.
Millán, who has been in direct contact with the minors who arrived in Ceuta in May for months, describes how the process is affecting the kids. “The minors told us that they could not sleep well, that whatever noise they heard they believed that it was the Police coming to look for them … Many of those who have escaped from Santa Amelia or Piniers – two provisional reception centers – maintain the same state of alert despite the fact that in the street there is no institutional team working with minors beyond independent associations with volunteers in which a role that corresponds to the administration falls, “he assures.
The lawyer for Coordinadora de Barrios recalls with helplessness the assemblies they held together with the minors in June. “There were children who were on the street and we tried to mediate so that they entered the centers, because we trusted the services of protection of the minor. In light of what has happened, I regret in a certain way,” says Fernández, who especially remembers the case of a boy whose return to his country was “a great risk”. “His sister called me, who was in the peninsula, she told me that if I returned, his father would kill him. He said that the child was experiencing a situation of labor exploitation in his country,” he says.
“It has been a fight against the clock, with many open fronts, in the midst of the uncertainty and despair of the minors themselves, who had always received the information that Spain is a rule of law,” summarizes Millán, who also speaks with some of minors returned in the last week. “They ask us to help them come back, but we cannot say yes, just as we do not want to create false expectations for those who are here. We do everything possible to denounce this situation, a great gaffe for the Spanish State,” he says. .
Defending minors for 20 years
It is not the first time that Patricia Fernández and Lourdes Reyzábal support migrant minors from a return to their country. The lawyer from Coordinadora de Barrios remembers those kids who tried to avoid their repatriations “without guarantees” in 2001 and 2006. “We continue to be in contact with many of them. That is our way of working, so we are creating networks that later They allow us to act quickly in situations such as those experienced in Ceuta “, adds the lawyer.
The lawyer looks back to make a reflection: “The attempts of the State to cheat in the protection of unaccompanied foreign minors are cyclical.” But, he clarifies, the operation of the Interior and the Government of Ceuta to return the minors is one of the most “serious” of which he has witnessed as a lawyer. “There is a detail that marks the seriousness of what happened: in this case, it is not a violation of human rights that occurred in an administrative procedure, but an operation designed to prevent them from being able to defend themselves and to avoid the law. In 2001 and 2006 There was no ruling from the Constitutional Court and there was no detailed regulatory framework, “he adds. Now there is, but “it has not mattered.”