Human rights groups have denounced Spain’s expulsion of hundreds of unaccompanied children to Morocco, calling the deportations illegal and urging an immediate halt to the process.
Amnesty International spokesman Angel Gonzalo said the deportations of minors and refugees began on Friday and continued on Saturday. The Spanish radio station Cadena Ser said 15 children were deported from Spain’s North African enclave of Ceuta so far.
The interior ministry has not officially announced the repatriations and did not immediately respond to requests for comment or confirm the numbers of children affected.
“We are writing to the Ministry of Interior asking them to stop these expulsions immediately, and asking for transparency over their actions,” Gonzalo said on Saturday, adding the organisation was speaking with prosecutors as “these expulsions violate international law”.
Spain is legally obliged to care for young migrants until their relatives can be located or until they turn 18.
Save The Children, meanwhile, urged Spanish authorities to assess the needs of each child and not deport them en masse. According to data it has collected, about a quarter of the migrant children it interviewed in Ceuta had suffered abuse in their homeland.
Hundreds of unaccompanied minors were among 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.
The episode took place after Spain agreed to provide medical treatment for the Sahrawi leader heading the fight for an independent Western Sahara, which was annexed by Morocco in the 1970s. Rabat reacted furiously and recalled its ambassador in Madrid.
“Repatriations from Ceuta continue today,” Save the Children posted on Twitter on Saturday.
The NGO called “for an end” to these. “Spain is not guaranteeing the protection of minors,” it said.
Ione Belarra, leader of the far-left Podemos, the junior member of Spain’s ruling coalition, also criticised the transfers in a letter to Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska.
“We have been informed by children’s organisations on the ground that the repatriation of minors has begun,” she wrote in the letter published in online daily El Confidencial.
She said the operation might be taking place “without strict observance” of various Spanish and international laws.