Many minors were among the migrants who crossed the border to arrive in Ceuta | Photo: Jon Nazca/Reuters
Many minors were among the migrants who crossed the border to arrive in Ceuta | Photo: Jon Nazca/Reuters

Spain's government has defended the return of migrant children from the north African enclave of Ceuta to Morocco. The move comes amid concerns that the deportations may breach international law.

Spain's interior minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, says the return of unaccompanied child migrants from the Spanish enclave of Ceuta to Morocco was not an expulsion and they "wanted to go home."

On Friday, Spain started sending more than 700 Moroccan youths who had crossed into Ceuta back to Morocco, after reaching an agreement with Rabat. "Repatriations from Ceuta continue today," the rights group Save the Children posted on Twitter on Saturday. "Spain is not guaranteeing the protection of minors," it said.

La Ser radio station, citing sources in Ceuta, said the minors were transported to Morocco in small groups using vans from a sports complex converted into a temporary reception center.

The children were among around 10,000 people who tried to enter Ceuta in May by scaling a border fence or swimming around it. Morocco has since taken back most of the migrants.

Rights concerns

The international rights group Amnesty International has asked prosecutors to look into the Spanish government's conduct over the young migrants' repatriation.

Save The Children has also called on Spanish authorities to assess the needs of each child and not deport them in groups. The organization says that about a quarter of the minors it interviewed in Ceuta had suffered abuse in their homeland.

Ione Belarra, leader of the left-wing group Podemos, the junior member of Spain's ruling coalition, also criticized the transfer of minors. In a letter published in the online daily El Confidencial she said that the operation might be taking place "without strict observance" of various Spanish and international laws.

But the interior minister told SER radio on Monday that the return of the children in groups of 15 did not breach international law. He insisted that vulnerable minors were not among those sent back and the best interests of the child were guaranteed.

Spain is legally bound to care for young migrants until their relatives can be located or until they turn 18. But under a 2007 agreement between Spain and Morocco, assisted returns are possible once children's cases have been considered.

With AFP, AP, Reuters


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