Southern border

Minors, the cannon fodder of the crisis in Ceuta

Hundreds of children and adolescents on the streets, turned back or crowded into makeshift shelters

4 min
Minors, the cannon fodder 
 Of the crisis in Ceuta

Special Envoys in CeutaOn a street in the industrial estate next to the port of Ceuta, Ridan, 16, stops us and shows us his mobile phone with a cracked screen and, with gestures, makes us understand that it has no battery. "Mom", he says, pointing to the phone. We leave him ours to call home, after four days wandering lost in the streets of Ceuta without knowing what to do or where to go, and sleeping on the breakwater of the beach. His father answers instantly, and the conversation barely lasts five minutes. "Dad, I heard that the border was open and I've gone to Ceuta. You and mum don't have a job and we are many brothers and sisters and we couldn't do anything to get out of this crisis that affects so many people. Now I will try to go up to the Peninsula. If I had wanted to steal or commit a crime I would have stayed in Tetuan. I'm going to get the papers and help the whole family", he tells them. The father tells him to take care of himself, to be a man and not to mix with "bad company". The mother does not get on the phone, she can only be heard crying.

Boys sleeping by the port of Ceuta

Minors have been the cannon fodder of this migration crisis, triggered by the umpteenth diplomatic clash between Spain and Morocco. According to humanitarian sources, of the nine thousand people who entered Ceuta, between two and three thousand have not reached 18. But there are no official figures. On Monday there was a rumor that in Ceuta they were giving papers to go to the Peninsula and many fell into the trap when the news spread like wildfire on social networks: eight thousand people, according to official data, left quickly to try to reach Europe. There are no official numbers on how many of them were under the age of 18.

"They came out of the water and asked us how to get to the police station to ask for papers", recalls a volunteer who was assisting migrants on Tuesday morning on the beach of Tarajal. Like Ridan, thousands of minors continue to wander the streets of the Spanish enclave in northern Morocco, after many of the adults who entered Ceuta between Monday and Wednesday have decided to return, claiming they have been victims of a hoax.

A group of minors wash themselves in the showers on a beach in Ceuta

Hot expulsions

There are also those who did not make it, like Manal, a 16-year-old girl from Tangier, who tried with her younger sister, 13, on Wednesday at dawn. "We threw ourselves into the water: there were many of us and when we reached the rocks of Ceuta the Spanish police fired rubber bullets and smoke that stung our eyes a lot. We couldn't see anything and we had to turn back. On the other side, the Moroccan gendarmes told us that we had the right to be there, that it is our land", she explains over the phone. She says she will try again, because the pandemic has exhausted her family's few resources. "I had to drop out of high school, we've run out of savings and now we live in a garage. I don't want to go to Spain to get rich. I just want to survive. In Morocco there is no hope". Many more minors were also victims of hot expulsions before the eyes of the cameras installed on the Tarajal beach on Wednesday morning, which according to children's rights NGOs is a blatant illegality, because no identification procedure was respected nor was it assessed whether they are in a vulnerable situation, as should be done with all migrants, and even more so if they are minors.

Adolescents roam the streets and are afraid that if they approach an institution they will be deported. The youngest, aged between 4 and 14, have been moved to the industrial warehouses in the industrial estate at the Tarajal border. There are no official figures, but a volunteer explained to this newspaper that 500 breakfasts had been distributed in the morning. The warehouses are now under army control and neither journalists nor specialised NGOs are allowed to access them, apart from the Red Cross, which is in charge of humanitarian assistance. Just yesterday the army had to provide them with bunk beds. The authorities are overwhelmed with improvising places to accommodate the children. Some have been moved to the Piniers area, on the grounds of a construction company that rents prefabricated containers, now full of children. On Tuesday, it was announced that the army would set up tents on a football pitch, but the local federation has not given permission for it.

Image of the Piniers shelter for minors in Ceuta

Spread throughout the communities

Madrid has launched a plan to send 200 of the minors who were already registered in centres in Ceuta in order to decongest them. The communities, which are responsible for them, would share them out, and 15 correspond to Catalonia, according to the Efe agency. The Catalan Minister of Social Affairs and Family, Chakir el Homrani, did not confirm the specific number, but yesterday he showed the Generalitat's willingness to take them in and urged the Spanish government to make fundamental changes to the law on foreigners, reports Elena Freixa.

And in the midst of this chaos Moroccan parents live with the uncertainty of not knowing anything about their boys and girls, who left without warning. "Look at this 14-year-old girl. Her mother is desperate, after three days without news", says Amina Driss, a volunteer who has collected second-hand clothes to give to the children who are wandering aimlessly around the city. She shows us a photograph of the girl, sent to her by a relative via WhatsApp.

And in the crossfire between Spain and Morocco there are also very young children, such as the 14-day-old girl who on Monday a sub-Saharan family managed to get through a hole in the fence that separates the Spanish side of the beach from the Moroccan side. The parents then jumped into the sea and managed to reach Ceuta and be reunited with the little girl. Yesterday it was impossible to know if the family has also been returned to Morocco or if they have been able to ask for international protection.