A young Senegalese man, Abdou, falls to the ground in defeat after swimming for 20 minutes to go around the Tarajal border breakwater. Luna, a Red Cross volunteer, attends to him while he expels, tired, part of the water he swallowed during the journey. Some time later, already with dry clothes, the man bursts into tears and hugs the girl in search of comfort. The image, which sparked sexist and racist attacks from the extreme right, became a symbol of the 2021 Ceuta migration crisis and pushed, under the slogan “Thank you Moon”, the reactions of solidarity from members of a government that, despite in turn, he returned warm to everyone who set foot on Spanish soil. Also Abdou.
The survivors of the Melilla jump denounce that the Civil Guard beat them and returned injured people to Morocco
More than a year later, his case has reached Strasbourg. The Senegalese, supported by the Spanish Commission for Refugee Aid (CEAR), has denounced before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) the immediate return of him to Morocco. On May 16, the court confirmed in writing to the NGO that the file will be “submitted for examination by the court as soon as possible,” as confirmed by elDiario.es. Along with the demand, the organization has presented images that show the complete return of the young man from the autonomous city to the Moroccan side of the border, made in broad daylight and in front of the national and international press.
After his entry into Spanish soil and his subsequent return, Abdou, 27, continues to live poorly in Morocco, according to CEAR. “We located him in a hostel, with a pretty terrible health situation,” Estrella Galán, general secretary of the organization, tells elDiario.es, who contacted the boy through the intervention of the correspondent of RTVE in Morocco and its team. “He needed medical attention that he had not received at the time [antes de ser devuelto, a pesar de haber entrado a Ceuta]. He did not have access to legal or medical assistance, or to an interpreter who could understand his language, as established by the entire international and state framework for this rejection to occur at the border, ”continues Galán.
No authority asked Abdou, nor so many others, for the reasons that had pushed him to swim across the border jetty, only the Red Cross volunteer was able to offer him water, food, dry clothes and a hug for, after staying in Ceuta beach, to be returned to Morocco automatically, in an operation shared by the Civil Guard and the Armed Forces. And this lack of an individualized procedure violates European regulations, recalls the NGO that supports Abdou in the process.
“Nine hours in Spain”
According to Abdou’s testimony, collected by CEAR and sent to Strasbourg, the young man left Casablanca on May 16, 2021 for Tangier “after hearing that they were going to open the Spanish-Moroccan border” by the Alaouite authorities. Two days later, on May 18, he swam “about 15 or 20 minutes” to reach Ceuta. The young man set foot on the Ceuta beach “at eight in the morning and until five in the afternoon he was lying on the beach,” explains Paloma Favieres, legal coordinator of the NGO. “He spent nine hours on Spanish soil.”
After that time in Ceuta, the Senegalese “was returned without any procedure, individual identification, without legal assistance, without the assistance of an interpreter and without any information from the Spanish authorities.” The organization defends that this action violates protocol 4 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, in regard to the prohibition of any collective expulsion. It also points to the breach of article 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the possibility that any person forced to return to their country can effectively appeal the decision.
“The immediate return of foreigners in Ceuta on May 18, 2021”, including Abdou, “was carried out without an identification procedure, which allows the individualized analysis of the situation of each one, where foreigners can present their arguments and the absence of an expulsion resolution that could guarantee access to an effective remedy”, Abdou’s lawyer states in writing before the court. In an interview in RTVE.esLuna, the Red Cross volunteer, acknowledged feeling guilty for not having been able to prevent her return and, as she said, she had not had time to learn about her particular situation and the reasons that pushed her to migrate.
The Government of Mariano Rajoy tried to regulate hot returns in 2014 through the Citizen Security Law, through a new figure called “rejection at the border”, which does not give carte blanche to this type of immediate returns as it requires guaranteeing compliance with human rights legislation. Despite the promises to put an end to hot returns by the PSOE, the current Ministry of the Interior has defended and maintained this type of action at the borders of Ceuta and Melilla.
Interior maintains that these types of returns are covered by the 2020 ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, which after having condemned Spain in the first instance for one of these documented cases of immediate returns, the Grand Chamber finally exonerated it. However, international organizations continue to condemn the application of returns without procedure given that, among the returned migrants, there may be people who need to request protection.
In the last jump to the Melilla fence, in which at least 23 people died –37 according to the NGOs–, the Civil Guard “rejected at the border” at least a hundred people, according to police sources. elDiario.es documented the case of a dozen people returned ‘hot’ by Spain to Morocco, including minors, wounded and one who claims he was unconscious. They were all Sudanese, a nationality whose rate of recognition of international protection in Spain now reaches 90%. They all wanted to seek asylum in Europe and claimed to be fleeing the violence and instability in their country. But, like Abdou, they were not asked where they were fleeing from, or their nationality, but rather were returned without prior procedure.
“We have witnessed the massacre in Melilla and there have been repeated irregular returns called ”rejection at the border”, without legal assistance, without access to the procedure, without access to request international protection and that continues to be a violation of the entire legal framework that it has to do with the Geneva Convention”, emphasizes Estrella Galán. “It is important to reach the Human Rights Court because we have to continue showing that this continues, and that illegal returns continue on the southern border.”
Abdou is an orphan and was traveling with his brother, according to the Senegalese told RTVE weeks after the Ceuta crisis. Morocco was a previous step to Spain, where she dreams of arriving one day “to start a new life, a dignified life”, she said then. The twentysomething broke into tears upon his arrival at the Ceuta beach after seeing his brother unconscious of him on the shore. After his return, he spent weeks worried without knowing anything about his relative, but they finally managed to meet again in the neighboring country. He too was returned, according to CEAR.
From Morocco, Abdou has already received confirmation from Strasbourg on the study of his request. His lawyers avoid generating great expectations that the case could have a direct consequence on his situation, while he maintains his goal of reaching Europe. His arrival in Strasbourg does manage to recall the other side of that photo that moved Spain, but diverted the focus from the human rights violations documented by the press during those days.