Where are the 116 migrants expelled from Ceuta by Grande-Marlaska?

Text: Cristina Mas / Photographs: Francesc Melcion
3 min
¿On són els 116 migrants expulsats de Ceuta per Grande-Marlaksa?

CeutaOne month after Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska ordered the summary expulsion to Morocco of 116 migrants who had jumped the Ceuta fence on 23 August, it is not known what has become of most of them.

One month after Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska ordered the summary expulsion to Morocco of 116 migrants who had crossed the Ceuta fence on 23 August, it is not known what has become of most of them. Two weeks ago Morocco sentenced 18 of the deportees to prison, but they have lost track of the others. The ones in prison are in Tetuán serving sentences of 2 months and facing fines of 500 dirhams (about 50 euros). They are from Guinea, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Nigeria, and Senegal, among other countries. They have been convicted of attacking the Moroccan police, possession of weapons, throwing stones and even, surprisingly, "illegal reentry into Morocco." The Moroccan Association of Human Rights considers it a "shameful trial".

The NGO, based in Tetuan, points out it has not been shown that these young people used quicklime or acted violently, accusations made by the Spanish police and Pedro Sánchez's government to justify the expulsion. "There may be someone who is aggressive, but this is not the experience we have had over many years working in the forests where young people prepare to jump the fence. These are people who are very scared because they have tried jumping the fence many times in the past and are in a desperate situation in Morocco. But that does not mean they want to hurt anyone. They mix urine, feces, and rotten fish so that the odor drives the police away, but there is no evidence that quicklime was used to hurt the officers. What we have seen is that they coat their hands with plaster to avoid slipping when they climb the fence," explains an anonymous source from the NGO. "They also carry hooks, shears and even spikes on the soles of their shoes, but these are not weapons: they are for helping them jump over a six meter fence," he explains.

Hassan, a young man from Conakry, Guinea, who has been in the temporary migrant residence center (CETI) in Ceuta since jumping the fence with 601 others on July 26, met some of the deportees during the 24 hour period in which they were in the Spanish enclave in northern Morocco: "They came, we celebrated that they had “made boza” [the term used by sub-Saharan immigrants for having made it across the border] and we had lunch together. The next day they assumed they would go to the police station and then return to the CETI. But we did not see them again," he explains as his teammates play a soccer game on the beach.

The boy notes that reaching Spanish territory took him two years and five attempts (he was arrested by the Guardia Civil three times and summarily expelled to Morocco, and then he was arrested twice by the Moroccan police). Going around the perimeter of the fence, the close cooperation between the police forces of both countries is evident: on the Moroccan side there are military camps spread across the mountain; on the Spanish side, vans with thermal cameras patrol the border. Like a war zone, with the war being against immigrants. "Now people are afraid of being deported if they jump the fence, and prefer to try by sea," says Hassan. It is always the same story: when a path is closed, a more dangerous one opens.

Family and social networks

There is no news from the rest of the young people who were returned to Morocco. Both Moroccan organizations defending human rights and migrant communities have spent time searching for them through family and social networks.

Caminando Fronteras, the NGO of journalist and activist Helena Maleno, suggests that at least one group was deported to the Moroccan city of Tiznit, in the south of the country, within the framework of the policy of forced removals with which the police forces are driving sub-Saharan people from coastal cities to curb crossings of the Strait of Gibraltar and the Alboran Sea. The organization has confirmed that some have been deported to Guinea, a country with which Morocco has a readmission agreement for those who have committed crimes.

Lawyers from the Ceuta office who represented the migrants after they jumped the fence reported that the police did not warn them that their clients would be expelled in such a sudden way and, as a result, they could not present a proper defense. This was the first time Madrid has applied the bilateral return agreement from 1992, and it took the lawyers by surprise.

A month later, the efforts of lawyers and NGOs to find the deportees have been in vain. And this leaves key questions unanswered: Did this group of deportees include refugees who had real reasons to request international protection in Spain? Were there more minors aside from the two that the Spanish government declined to deport? How were they treated by the Spanish police?