With the intention of requesting asylum in Spain, 125 people, including 60 women and eight children, arrived this Monday at Peñón Vélez de la Gomera, a military enclave of Spanish sovereignty connected to Morocco by a narrow strip of land, as documented the organizations Caminando Fronteras and Coordinadora de Barrios. After spending hours on this Spanish soil, all the migrants have been returned hotly despite having expressed their intention to seek asylum, as one of the returned migrants explained to elDiario.es and the NGOs have denounced the Ombudsman.
“The Spanish military handed us over to the Moroccan gendarmerie,” says Thomas (fictitious name) to elDiario.es, one of the migrants who arrived in Vélez de la Gomera on foot this Monday. The man, a Cameroonian national, denounces what happened from a bus guarded by the Moroccan gendarmerie without knowing where he will be transferred. “We are on a bus and we don’t know where they are taking us,” he says.
“We filled out the asylum request and gave it to the Spanish military, but they have returned us anyway. I don’t understand it,” added the Cameroonian worried. “It is a shame, it goes against human rights! After our efforts to request asylum …”, he laments. “Among us there were sick people, children and pregnant women.”
Since their arrival on the rock, the migrants contacted human rights organizations and communicated their desire to request international protection. The Barrios Coordinator’s lawyer, Patricia Fernández Vicens, sent the Ombudsman the list of names of the men, women and children who had expressed their willingness to request asylum, according to a letter accessed by elDiario.es. The organization has also sent the documentation to the office in Spain of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
After receiving the complaint, the Ombudsman reminded the Secretary of State for Security of the irregularity that the immediate return of these people would entail, after having declared his intention to request asylum in Spain. Francisco Fernández Marugán has remarked that the Government must comply with “the principle of non-refoulement” which, he emphasizes, “prevents people with international protection needs, who have contacted Spanish authorities, from being returned without procedure.”
However, according to the spokesperson for the migrants and the NGOs that have supported them, all have been returned at around 8 pm. “We knocked on every door but no one stood up for us when we needed it,” laments Thomas. elDiario.es has contacted the Interior and Defense ministries, but they neither confirm nor deny the arrival of these people or their return.
In its letter, the Coordinator of Neighborhoods to the Ombudsman assures that among the people who requested asylum before the Spanish military were a group of Congolese women who had also managed to enter Spain on May 17, during the diplomatic crisis with Morocco . These women had “expressed their request for asylum” and had been “housed in the Tarajal warehouses but also on that occasion” they were illegally returned to Morocco without any procedure, “the document indicates.
“Of particular concern is the situation of a group of Congolese women who already approached the Ombudsman in May to report their return to Morocco from Ceuta, without due procedure, despite the fact that they had expressed their willingness to request asylum , informing UNHCR of this in the Tarajal ships, “says Francisco Fernández Marugán. According to the Ombudsman, all returned migrants are third-state nationals, not Moroccan citizens, and were in a situation of “great vulnerability.”
Along with this group, the NGO have also identified a total of 60 women from Congo, Mali, Guinea and Senegal, as well as eight minors and 57 men. The migrants have spent more than 12 hours on the rocky surface, barely 260 meters long and between 15 and 100 meters wide. “We are very tired, we have walked from Nador. We are hungry, the sun is very hot, nobody helps us. There are children and pregnant women. We gave the list of names of people willing to ask the military for asylum but they did nothing,” he warned During the afternoon of Monday another of the newcomers in a testimony collected by the Alarm Phone organization.
All these people have waited for a response from the Spanish authorities at the Stte. Bernal Piti and at the entrance door of the Spanish barracks built on the rock. Several images sent by migrants to NGOs show dozens of women and men sitting on the ground. In some of the photographs, you can read the inscription of the Spanish military installations: “All for the homeland. Peñón Vélez de la Gomera”.
The Ombudsman recalled that, during the months of August and September, the institution has received complaints about the return of people “especially vulnerable and willing to request international protection”, from other Spanish rocks, the island of Tierra and the islands Chafarinas.
“We knocked on all doors but no one has defended us when we have needed it,” laments Thomas, disappointed, from the bus guarded by Moroccan forces.