Hundreds of African children and teenagers who crossed into the Spanish enclave of Ceuta last week are now crammed into warehouses or sleeping rough in city parks as their fate remains up in the air.
More than 8,000 migrants crossed into the Spanish territory last week amid reports that Moroccan officials had relaxed controls over the border.
Many of them arrived after swimming or piling into flimsy inflatable rafts to skirt the breakwater that marks the border with Morocco and at least two people died attempting the crossing.
About 7,000 of those who crossed into Spain have since been sent back across the border but the city has identified 438 children and teenagers who arrived unaccompanied by adults and more are being rounded up as social services workers scour the city’s parks and streets.
“We’re working to address the issue of children who have come alone,” Spain’s minister for social rights, Ione Belarra told Spanish broadcaster RTVE. “It’s important to understand that we’re seeing children that are much younger than the usual – children of seven, eight, nine years old.”
Many of them have been sent to warehouses turned into shelters in order to carry out 10 days of coronavirus quarantine under police watch.
Several minors who have managed to slip out of the warehouses have complained that the crowded, inadequate facilities meant that they had gone days without hot meals – surviving instead on provisions such as apples, yogurt and sandwiches – while a lack of beds had left many of them sleeping on the floor.
“I would prefer to sleep in an abandoned car, like I did the first few days here. It’s more comfortable, ” one youth told ElDiario.es. “I want to get out of here,” another told El País, after capturing video that appeared to show a bathroom floor covered in excrement after the toilets had stopped working.
Many more minors are believed to be sleeping rough in parks and on the streets of Ceuta without any financial resources or adult supervision.
Officials in the city of 85,000 have pleaded for help from Spain’s regions. “We cannot cope, there are too many children,” Carlos Rontome, one of the city’s deputy leaders, told Spanish national radio this week.
After officials launched a hotline to reunite children with their families, 4,400 calls came flooding in within its first day of operation, Mabel Deu, another of the city’s deputy leaders, told reporters on Friday.
Staffs are working “morning, noon and night,” as desperate relatives call in hopes of tracking down their loved ones, she said. “The goal is to reunite these minors with their families as soon as possible, because we understand the worry and anguish of many families who don’t know where their children are,” said Deu. Under Spanish law, minors remain the care of regional authorities until their relatives can be located or until they come of age.
Social services workers have found that some children are eager to go home, while others have said they hope to stay in Spain regardless of their family’s wishes, said Deu. Some, like one 14-year-old who spoke to the Associated Press, said that he and his parents had agreed that he should go to Spain.
“They see that if I come here I can have a future,” he said. “You see your parents can’t work, the education system is very weak. What can I say?”
Save the Children has urged authorities to consider each child’s situation on a case-by-case basis. “Before repatriation takes place, it is crucial that authorities ensure it is safe and appropriate for the children’s development and rights,” the organisation said in statement.
Amnesty International, addressing reports that Spain had been sending children back across the border without due process, said, “Amnesty is reminding the authorities that they must ensure that the best interests of the child are protected in all cases and that these young people must be able – if appropriate – to request international protection.” (Source: The Guardian)