Statewatch News Online: Biscay/Spain-Morocco: Protecting foreign minors or getting rid of them?

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Protecting foreign minors or getting rid of them?

Peio M. Aierbe
SOS Arrazakeria/SOS Racismo
6 September 2007

About the Awareness Raising, Protection and Reception of foreign under-14-year-olds who have arrived in Biscay proposal, presented by the Grupo Popular Vizcaíno (Popular Party Group of Biscay) of the Juntas Generales de Bizkaia (Biscay General Assembly)

A proposal from the Partido Popular is set to be debated soon in the Juntas Generales de Bizkaia, whose core consists in the setting up of a reception centre in Morocco for under-14s to which to send those who arrive in the institutions of Biscay [the province of Bilbao].

To us in SOS Arrazakeria-SOS Racismo, this proposal appears particularly relevant because it would mean crossing a line that has, by and large, been respected to date. That is, in terms of not initiating, from the Council, procedures for the expulsion (disguised behind the euphemism of "re-grouping") of unaccompanied foreign minors, which is what the current proposal envisages.

What is perverse about it, is that it attempts to embellish its real purpose, that is none other than to get rid of these kids because they are, supposedly, an unbearable burden, by manipulating concepts and pretending that the goal is to "raise awareness, protect and receive". It would be a platitude to state that the best place in which to achieve this goal is here, where we can provide them with the resources that are made possible by the great purchasing power of our institutions. Moreover, this is what these minors who have overcome thousands of obstacles to get here want. But those who submitted the proposal close their eyes before what is obvious.

The argument for returning them to their family environment is "because that is where they are better off"; then, could they let us know, why is it that they emigrate?

In this sense, reference is made to the precedent of the Madrid Autonomous Community. Well, this clarifies matters as to the authentic purpose of the proposal, as that Community has been repeatedly condemned by all sorts of entities working with unaccompanied foreign minors for violating their rights, with a commonplace practice of carrying out expulsions without guarantees, with similar conclusions also reached by different judges in their sentences opposing this practice. The mentioned Community, funded by the AENEA programme, is building two centres, in Tangiers and Marrakech, costing three million Euros, for the exclusive purpose of having an alibi to avoid having judicial decisions passed against it for violating minors' rights.

It is claimed that "these projects serve to prevent these minors from embarking upon this migration plan in [their place of] origin" and that they stop them "putting their own lives at risk". Well, it is precisely the opposite that is true, as it has been demonstrated that a large majority of those "re-grouped" are abandoned in the street and return to the Peninsula, placing their lives at risk again to achieve this, and re-starting their journey around the Institutions, which was brusquely interrupted by the expulsion.

It is proposed to include this proposal within the framework of development co-operation while running contrary to the most accessible option, [that is] more rational and viable, of taking care of their education and development ourselves.

A plan is proposed to "raise awareness among Moroccan families so that they may know about our socioeconomic reality and the impossibility of working for under-16s": it is obvious that they already know the basic trait of our socioeconomic situation, that is, the possibility of seeking a future here that they are denied in their country. And even though they cannot work here at 16 years of age, at that age they can acquire the professional skills that may prepare them to enter the labour market, or is it that we want them to return to their countries so that... yes, it does happen there, they may end up working at 16 years of age in conditions of extreme exploitation and for a miserly income!

The problem is that this proposal may find fertile ground among those responsible for the protection of minors in the Local Council of Bizkaia.

Why do I say this? On the past 21 June, in the context of a seminar organised by Harresiak Apurtuz in Bilbao, we attended the dissertation by Iñigo Pombo, Director of the Infants department of the Local Council of Bizkaia, that illustrated the local authority's policy towards unaccompanied foreign minors. Considering the context in which he presented it, before an audience a majority of whom are busy working with minors, it may be inferred that the effect that he sought was to transmit the criteria for intervention of his department with clarity. And it must be said that the effect, on a considerable part of the people attending the seminar, was one of dismay. If anyone had thought that the policy followed by the Madrid Autonomous Community, to use the paradigmatic example of institutional ill-treatment towards unaccompanied foreign minors and their systematic expulsion (pardon me, re-grouping), would not have reached these whereabouts, they now know that it is only a matter of (a very short) time. Mr. Pombo put this forward, in black on white.

In an address in which he displayed the superlative self-esteem with which the institution that he represents evaluates its work with minors, showing how they are the best in this field in the entire State and, it may be deduced, in all of Europe, through an array of figures, he repeated the discourse that he has been using for some time: there are too many of them, they saturate reception services, there are not enough resources... Well, we already knew these arguments and in the (brief) round of interventions, it was possible to listen to the counter-argument regarding the immense resources that this Council devotes to many other fields, before which those dedicated to this matter pale into insignificance.

However, the local authority's official in charge, certain that he stood on firm ground, put forth new arguments that complete the framework of his current analysis, and which fill in any remaining gaps as regards the political basis from which their future interventions are planned. With the only qualification of expressing them as questions, he addressed the public in these terms: by acting as we are (in a model manner, according to his version), might we not be contributing to the exploitation of these minors? (one imagines [that he means] by their families, viewed as being the ones that send them here). Might we not be strengthening the activity of mafias? Are we not treating them differently to minors from here, who we try to re-integrate into their families, something that we don't do with them? It would be impossible to issue the call for us to join the policy of expulsion of these minors with greater clarity, considering that otherwise, not only are we addressing a problem that apparently does not concern us, but rather, we are co-operating with the mafias, with their exploitation... Well, never mind, let us continue sending them back, even though they resist with all their means, although they return time and again in the bottoms of lorries or in the corresponding dinghy. In purely statistical terms, at one time or another they will die during the attempt and they will be one less problem for us.

As there were people who questioned the idyllic picture painted by Mr. Pombo among those those who attended the talk, and they insisted on talking about institutional ill-treatment, he unveiled what he considered to be the lithmus test: this argument is contradicted by the minors themselves, as they choose Bizkaia as their main destination! And there is nothing left to talk about. This is the grand argument (or rather, the absurd reasoning) that, from now on, will neutralise any lawsuit against the illegal exploitation of workers; how could it be true, if the migrants themselves have signed up for the corresponding job? Or will it belie the charge that the obstacles that Europe places in the way of legal immigration are causing hundreds of deaths in the Strait [of Gibraltar] or on the African coast; if thousands are still coming, how could it be true that hundreds die trying? And so on.

Times are coming that are (even) harder and it would be best to prepare for them. If Mr. Pombo is capable of putting forward this discourse, in this setting, it is because they have clearly made up their mind, as an institution, and because they feel that they are stepping on firm ground, because as soon as they air this message, they expect to be able to count on society's support for it. It is necessary to react from the active sectors of society by voicing an alternative discourse, revealing the perverse nature of these approaches and their enormous contradiction in relation to the principle that it is claimed that they defend and that feature in the treaties that have been signed… To show, once and for all, that we are not facing some sort of plague that has befallen us, but rather, on the contrary, an opportunity that this society must learn how to make the most of.

Peio M. Aierbe
SOS Arrazakeria/SOS Racismo

Article in Spanish: ¿Proteger a los menores extranjeros o deshacernos de ellos? (pdf)

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