Arrival in Melilla of 21 people on March 15, 2023: a manifestation of the blurriness and irregularity of the procedures for the reception of migrants
CHRONOLOGY OF THE FACTS
Alboran Island is an islet located 55 km from the cape of Tres Forcas (Morocco) and 85 km south of Adra (Spain). This island of less than 1 km² is located halfway between Melilla and Almeria, and belongs to the Spanish territory since 1540. It is currently inhabited by a deployment of the Spanish Navy and has basic buildings such as a port and heliport as well as a cemetery. Due to its geographical position, the island is usually a stopover and destination for the boats of people trying to cross the Mediterranean.
On March 15 at 14:20h we received an alert that a Maritime Rescue boat had rescued 21 people who had been on the island for one or two days according to testimonies, including at least 3 minors. Through a tracking application it is possible to locate and know the starting point as well as the route taken and the real time position of the boat. The rescue boat Salvamar Spica had left Almeria and after the rescue it headed towards the Moroccan coast, it was uncertain whether towards Melilla or towards Morocco to return them.
At around 16:00h they arrived at the port of Melilla escorted by the Guardia Civil, and once on solid ground they were met by about 20 agents of the National Police and the Guardia Civil. The latter shielded the access to the area, preventing journalists and photographers from approaching and requesting the identification of those who were observing what happened, including two volunteers from Solidary Wheels: "they say they have to identify the people who are in the area".
The 21 people were assisted by two Red Cross ambulances - under the supervision of a large police deployment - and distributed in two plain vans, one white and one grey ( with no logo of the security forces in question). At 17:00h the Government Delegation informed that "The Ministry of Interior, due to a specific need in the management of the arrival of a skiff, has decided to transfer to the Port of Melilla 21 people, all of them males and of which 3 are minors, who have been rescued from the island of Alboran by the Salvamar Spica, as this is the nearest port, in order to respond to this situation". 30 minutes later started the convoy arranged for the transfer to the National Police Headquarters, headed by two cars of the Civil Guard followed by the two plain vans and two cars of the National Police.
Once the vans were parked at the National Police Headquarters, the 21 people entered the police station one by one through the back door, handcuffed. They were held for several hours and at around 10:00 pm a van with 4 people inside was driven to the La Purísima Centre for minors.
Simultaneously Europa Press released the following statement: "A device formed by Red Cross health and security personnel such as the Civil Guard and National Police have received the maritime rescue boat for the assistance of the migrants and their transfer to the Center for Temporary Stay of Immigrants (CETI) in the case of adults and the Reception Center in the case of minors". However, this was not the case.
The second van with more than 10 people left the Headquarters at approximately 23:00h, but it did not go to the CETI, but to unknown whereabouts, we lost track of it.
We confirmed the following day that the group of adults was not transferred to the CETI and to this day they have not accessed the CETI either.
We at Solidary Wheels denounce the lack of transparency of this arrival and the irregularity of the procedure carried out. With the publication of the announcement, the Government Delegation publicly positioned itself as the do-gooder of the narrative, however, it failed to mention the large police deployment that awaited these 21 people on the mainland and the subsequent steps that were to be taken to ensure respect for the rights of the people assisted. This deployment was disproportionate and responds to a criminalizing approach to migratory movements, acting with total opacity and impunity.
We have recently learned that the young people were returned to Morocco. According to Article 23.1 of the RLOEX, the proposal of return can only be applied if "a) Foreigners who, having been expelled, contravene the prohibition of entry into Spain", or, "b) Foreigners who intend to enter the country irregularly. For these purposes, foreigners who are intercepted at the border or in its vicinity will be considered as included". It should be noted at this point that the young people were, according to testimonies, intercepted on the Island of Alboran (some had even been there for more than a day), and it is also indicated in the communiqué of the Ministry of the Interior regarding the rescue. Therefore, it could be understood that they were not intercepted at the border or in the vicinity of it, the implementation of this procedure and the detention carried out being inadequate.
In addition, we are aware that most of the adults who arrived in the city of Melilla from the Island of Alboran have applied for international protection, and have already completed the interview at the present time. In this regard, it is worth recalling the STJUE of June 25, 2020, which refers to "98. Given that, as stated in paragraph 94 of this judgment, a third-country national who has made known to 'another authority', within the terms of the second subparagraph of Article 6(1) of Directive 2013/32, his wish to apply for international protection is granted the same rights as an applicant for international protection, his situation cannot, at this stage, fall within the scope of Directive 2008/115.". This means that if the young people had made such a statement, they should have been transferred as soon as possible in order to be able to complete their applications.
This is not an unusual occurrence, it is common practice of the state security forces with regard to young Moroccans arriving in Spanish territory. We have come across other cases in which a proposal for return is wrongly initiated because the young people were not intercepted at the access, quite the contrary, they had been in the city for hours or even days.
There were no subsequent official communiqués updating the status of the situation, let alone naming the fact that they were detained at the police station for approximately 5 hours, without knowing whether their asylum application was materializing or they were being informed of a refoulement proposal.
Likewise, the media published several news items announcing the transfer of 4 people to the center for minors and the rest to the CETI. In fact, 4 minors were transported to the center, but the rest were put in a van and transferred to an unknown location, since no one was admitted to the CETI that night or the following day. This is yet another example of the opacity of police procedures.
The CETIs are "provisional first reception devices and intended to provide basic social services and benefits to the group of immigrants and asylum seekers arriving in any of the Cities with Statute of Autonomy", regulated by articles 264 to 266 of the Regulation of the Organic Law 4/2000, approved by Royal Decree 557/2011. That is to say, these 21 people -just like all those people of Moroccan nationality who are currently homeless- have the right to benefit from this resource. However, based on discriminatory requirements and without legal basis, Moroccan asylum seekers are prohibited access. In addition, at this moment the CETI of Melilla is practically empty, therefore it would have had the capacity to house, without any difficulty, this newly arrived group.
We at Solidary Wheels denounce the lack of transparency and procedural equality in the reception of migrants at the Southern Border. This generates feelings of uncertainty and insecurity for the people affected because they do not know if once they arrive in Europe their rights will be respected or not.
What happened on March 15 is part of a strategy of invisibilization that exposes migrants to greater vulnerability and lack of protection, leaving them unprotected once they arrive. This maneuver included a disproportionate police deployment in the port of Melilla, a secretive and hidden operation that was able to hide what was taking place and the impediment to document these events. This structural and symbolic violence hinders the fulfillment of their fundamental rights and exposes them to situations of high vulnerability.
On the other hand, we also want to emphasize that the fact of disembarking in Melilla instead of Almeria represents a discriminatory treatment and has consequences for the migratory path of these people. We do not know the reasons for the choice of Melilla as port of reception since no official communication has been made in this regard. The fact is that, now that the asylum applications have been registered in Melilla, these people must wait a month and a day for them to be admitted for processing before they can travel to the mainland and have access to resources and opportunities that are sometimes restricted in the autonomous city. This has an impact on the extension of their migration journey, which is often already very long and full of obstacles.
Our work in the field continues and we will continue to denounce this type of practices that go against a dignified reception, transparent procedures and unconditional respect for the rights of all migrants.