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Spain: Growing numbers of repatriations of minors envisaged, and the building of reception centres abroad
01 September 2007
In July 2007, the Junta de Andalucía (Andalusian regional government) announced that 988 of the total of around 1,200 unaccompanied minors in Andalusian care institutions would be repatriated to their home country, Morocco, because "most of them do not fulfil the profile" of minors to be protected established by Spanish law, they "endanger" the Andalusian protection services by "saturating" them, and they come from "structured families that can perfectly take charge of them".
Brigitte Espuche of the Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de Andalucía (APDHA) notes that this is a change of course, as Andalusia, in contrast to the regions of Madrid or Catalunya, had been prudent in matters regarding the protection of children, and had not carried out any repatriations of unaccompanied minors in the last three years. The shift involves the minors being portrayed primarily as a "threat" or as "illegal immigrants", thus criminalising them, rather than as minors at risk who have special rights and towards whom a special duty of care is applicable. APDHA and Andalucía Acoge responded to the statements by the Junta de Andalucía by launching a campaign against the repatriation of unaccompanied minors. These developments are taking place in spite of criticism of Spanish institutions by international bodies (UN, UNICEF, the Council of Europe), national authorities (the Spanish Defensor del pueblo, or ombudsman) and NGOs for failing to respect the rights of unaccompanied minors in its charge.
A Spanish-Moroccan memorandum of understanding for "assisted repatriation" was signed in December 2003, and an agreement between the two countries was reached in 2004 concerning the repatriation of 563 minors, although 81 were eventually deported. In early 2005, indiscriminate expulsions were carried out at the border crossings of the Spanish north African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, and the UN received allegations of abuses, largely by the Moroccan police, including ill-treatment, torture and even rape. Spanish efforts to find a solution to guarantee that the minors would receive due care in the absence of reliable Moroccan counterparts led to plans for the "externalisation" of centres for repatriated minors. The construction of four such centres and four flats for the same purpose began in 2005 with EU and Spanish development and co-operation funding, from both the national government and the Madrid and Catalan regional governments. Diagonal newspaper reports that three million euros were earmarked by the Madrid regional government to build two reception centres in Morocco, and two million euros allocated by the Catalan regional government to fund four flats in Tangiers.
The Canary islands government also plans to open its own centre and negotiations are underway for Andalusia to do the same, while the Popular Party group has also submitted a proposal to the Biscay province general assembly for it to open its own centre for repatriated under-14s (see the article by Peio Aierbe, "Protecting foreign minors or getting rid of them?"). In an article in Diagonal, Fernán Chalmeta notes that a UNICEF report from 2006 advised against the construction of centres for repatriated minors, as they would encourage reptriations without guaranteeing the interests of minors, that Moroccan authorities do not have the means to guarantee that the centres will function adequately, and that a law passed in 2003 to punish illegal emigration from Morocco with fines and/or imprisonment is applied to repatriated Moroccan minors, thus criminalising them.
Nacho De La Mata, a lawyer from the Coordinadora de Barrios network in Madrid who represents foreign minors, criticises the lack of information concerning the numbers of foreign minors in public regional child care institutions, and said that the minors fear repatriation and try to avoid it. He adds that repatriations take place rather regularly, "around two per week", although there are peaks and troughs, and that th