The first names that were written on the lists of Moroccan minors to be repatriated by the Government of Ceuta and the Ministry of the Interior were selected under one criterion: their age. According to the president of Ceuta, Juan Jesús Vivas (PP), it was decided to first expel “those with the closest ages” to 18 years because “from a statistical point of view” they were less likely to be “vulnerable.”
The National Court gives the Interior five days to send “the file” of the return of the minors
He said it at the same press conference in which the president of the Autonomous City was honest with the media and told the opposite of what the Ministry of the Interior was arguing. Vivas admitted, to the amazement of a sector of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, that the returns had been made without individualized reports on the situation of each adolescent migrant and without giving them a voice in the procedure: that is, without complying with the Immigration Law.
Now it is the Organizations specialized in the identification of childhood vulnerabilities that discredit that age by itself is sufficient to measure the vulnerability of each child. And they remember another factor: they, those over 16, also have more legal capacity to oppose a decision that directly affects their life.
“Any hint of vulnerability detected in these three months had been brought to the attention of the Ministry by SAMU and Engloba and given that those housed in the Santa Amelia sports center were those who were in the worst habitability conditions and that no warning had been given some in case of return, the objective criterion used to order their repatriation was from older to younger age, “defended Vivas.
The UNICEF child protection officer in Ceuta, Laura Bondendörder, considers that “it is not justified” to establish an inversely proportional relationship between the age of a minor and the possibility of having a greater or less risk of vulnerability in the event of family reunification or repatriation. “A child is a human being who evolves and at each stage has more or less probable vulnerability factors,” warns the technician, who in the city is dedicated to solving the “bottlenecks” that the local administration has encountered in the time to work with the more than 700 children and adolescents that it continues to foster after the border crisis in May.
“The term ‘vulnerable’ is not legally regulated, but what is a risk situation is, and the assessment must begin with the collaboration of Morocco for their families, since the Convention on the Rights of the Child establishes that reunification is the best exit unless it is contrary to their best interests “, warns the director of Awareness and Childhood Policies of Save The Children, Catalina Perazzo, on which should have been the starting point of the evaluation.
The Council of the Presidency of the local Executive asked that entity for help a week after the migratory crisis to carry out “exhaustive interviews with each of the minors” in order to prepare individualized reports on which the child protection service of the The city could then make a decision based on the advantages of supporting the return to its country, its permanence in Spain or its transfer to a third State. He has not had time to finish. The NGO did not conduct any interviews with the adolescents taken in at the Santa Amelia sports center, the space from where the local government began repatriations.
The non-governmental organization has completed around 350 interviews, none with the 61 expelled minors (actually 55, since with half a dozen when crossing the border it was found that they were over 18 years old). According to the preliminary conclusions of this study, 25% of the total have “extremely vulnerable” profiles because they had suffered physical violence, abuse or mistreatment in their country of origin and one in six, torture or degrading treatment. It cannot provide specific data on the ages of vulnerable kids, but it confirms that these profiles include adolescents between 16 and 18 years of age.
The Spanish authorities should have analyzed “case by case” several indicators: the situation in the country of origin, the existence of conflict with the family, violence, labor or sexual exploitation, abuse, circumstances that may be the basis for requesting asylum, health, situation of the street … “With this last factor, for example, it is much more likely that an older child was in this situation in their country of origin than a smaller one, and it is also possible that they have been exposed to a situation of violence or is less resilient and has more mental health problems … It is impossible to know without a previous individual study “, concludes Perazzo,” for the protection system to make a decision on whether a minor declares itself abandoned or not. ”
Greater legal capacity to participate in the procedure
Lourdes Reyzábal, president of Fundación Raices, one of the organizations that defended minors who appealed for their return until they were suspended, also discredits the criteria used by the Ceuta government. “It does not make sense. Not only is it essential to study each case, regardless of age, but also in 2008 the Constitutional Court concluded – in a case of the return of a migrant minor – the ability of children to oppose the decisions that they affect their lives even by opposing their legal representatives, when they have sufficient capacity and maturity, “contextualizes the childhood expert. “I am surprised that they start with those of 17 and 16, because the violation of their right to be heard is even greater.”
The president of Raíces refers to the historic ruling by which the Constitutional Court concluded in 2008 that the Administration did not listen to a minor who was going to be repatriated. His expulsion stopped in 2006, moments before getting on the plane, without legal assistance and without evaluating whether the family and social circumstances were present to guarantee his protection in Morocco. The court resolution recognized the right of minors to defend themselves in court and to oppose any decision made against them if they believe that what their guardians are trying to do is detrimental to them. Until then, the protection services were the ones that initiated the repatriation processes while they remained their legal representatives. The Court recognized her right to independent legal aid.
Immigration regulations allow migrant children and adolescents to be part of the procedure for their possible return. The regulations mark differences between those over and under 16 years of age. Everyone must be listened to, but those with “sufficient judgment” (who are understood to be usually the oldest) can personally intervene in the repatriation procedure without the requirement of having a legal representative.
Those over 16 years of age, meanwhile, “will be recognized as having the capacity to act in the planned repatriation procedure, being able to intervene personally or through the representative they designate,” says the Immigration Law. For children, the norm establishes that “in the case of minors under sixteen years of age, with sufficient judgment, who have expressed a will contrary to that of whoever holds their guardianship or representation, the course of the procedure will be suspended, until the appointment of the defender judicial representative that represents them “.
Amaia Ochoa is one of the No Name Kitchen volunteers who work on the street with unaccompanied Moroccan migrant minors who are in Ceuta and she was also surprised when she heard the age-vulnerability connection. “All the children that we meet, whether they are 14 or 17 years old, are alone, do not speak the language and are equally vulnerable at high risk: that age filter, that categorization, does not make sense without a study of each case,” he concludes .
“We are in a city with limited capacities at all levels, both financial and human, because for example it has been difficult to find professionals trained to work in reception centers with children, who speak Dariya,” adds Bondendörder about the pitfalls that have slowed down the individual diagnosis of newcomers and their families, which for UNICEF is unavoidable “before making any decision about their future”, exactly the opposite of what has been done.
Unicef demands that “case by case be taken from a correct procedure, guaranteeing the rights of the child, to prevent a child from returning to an environment in which he could be a victim of violence, abuse or exploitation”.