[Europe] The Migrant Children Trapped on a Tiny Piece of Europe in Morocco

12 Aug 2019

The VICE article on children trapped in Spanish enclaves paints a powerful picture of the experience of one of the most vulnerable groups: unaccompanied refugee and migrant children.  

Spain has seen many cases of migrant children coming recently. They are known as MENAS (Menores Extranjeros No Acompanados or 'unaccompanied foreign minors'). There are three regions that are the most popular for this group: Melilla, Andalusia, and Catalonia. Melilla is a Spanish enclave sharing a land border with Morocco. The number of MENAS living in Spain doubled from 2017 to 2018 up to 13,000. In that period, the MENA reception system started to crumble and it resulted in many children abandoning the facilities and living on their own. The local community started to boil and it all escalated with three attacks on unaccompanied migrant children near Barcelona.

VICE brings the story of Mohammed, a 16-year-old boy, coming from Casablanca, Morocco and at the moment he is living in Melilla. "Mohammed is stuck in Melilla. He can't go back to his parents in Morocco, but he can't get further into Europe either" the VICE starts his story. For the past four years, Mohammed has spent in and out of the system, having to live on the streets for two years, too. According to Spanish law, migrant children under supervision are able to get a temporary residence permit, which also allows them to work if they are over 16. But, unfortunately, this process is very slow, and according to the Ombudsman, the authorities are not providing minors with the documents, so many of the children are unable to fully integrate. For that reason, many of them are willing to risk their own lives going to the Melilla port in order to sneak onto trucks set to the Spanish mainland.

According to the Spanish Ministry of Interior, out of 13,000 children, 68 percent of them are Moroccan. In Spain, unaccompanied foreign minors have the same rights as Spanish children and they can be repatriated only after the government is sure they will be safe in the country they are sent to. Now the Spanish government is negotiating a deal with Morocco regarding those children to make an exception to the Child Protection Act only for Moroccan MENAS who will be recognized as 'early migrants'. According to the article "Melilla has gone one step further and requested that the law be amended to include the concept of 'premature economic immigrant'." In practice, this means children can be sent back to Morocco if their parents are identified, or alternatively sent to mainland Spain after being three months in Melilla.

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