José Luis Puerta, Juvenile Prosecutor of Ceuta.Joaquin Sanchez

A month has passed since some 10,000 people desperately swam to enter Ceuta under the impassive gaze of the Moroccan guards and the situation remains one of emergency. Most returned voluntarily or were expelled to Morocco, but more than 820 minors who arrived in the middle of the chaos continue to be crowded into city centers without resources to care for them. Another 200, who were identified as minors in the early days, are off the system’s radar. In houses, on the street or in Morocco; it is not known where they are. To these must be added an indefinite number of kids who were never identified and who are still out in the open. “Ceuta is a small city, it does not have the means to deal with this situation,” warns the autonomous city prosecutor for minors, José Luis Puerta.

Puerta (Granada, 57 years old) attended the Tarajal warehouse in the first days of the crisis, the first space that was set up to accommodate the little ones. For days the children were left without shade, without enough beds, barely eating sandwiches and muffins and relieving themselves where they could. “In those days there was a lack of coordination between the police and the autonomous city, it was not clear who was in charge of what and the hygienic conditions were not adequate,” recalls the prosecutor.

Conditions have improved since then, but are still not suitable. The city has enabled two industrial buildings, a sports hall and a space with dozens of barracks in the middle of a field. Sunlight does not enter the warehouses and the sports hall and the boys spend almost the entire day idle. “I have visited the sports center and that is a pavilion with beds and some portable toilets. As an emergency situation it is valid, but it cannot be sustained over time. You can be like this for two or three months, but no more, ”warns Puerta. “A pavilion is not a place to live.”

The fear of children, fearful of being returned to their country, is also an unpredictable fuse that lights quickly. “They’re running away. When it was said in the media that the King of Morocco had given an order to facilitate the repatriation of the minors, there was an attempted escape. The boys got very nervous, ”recalls the prosecutor. “Above all, I am concerned about overcrowding and coexistence problems that may arise,” says Puerta. “There are many boys at a very difficult age.” The prosecutor also warns that there is a couple of months left for the start of the school year. “I don’t know how it will be done, but the children have to go to school,” he maintains.

Things in Ceuta did not turn out as originally thought. Despite the thousand children who had already been counted in the first days and who should remain sheltered, the local and national authorities hoped that the majority of the parents would want to get them back. But it was not like that. Most of the families have preferred that their children stay in Spain. He has seen the almost 79 fathers and mothers who came to send their children’s documentation, feeding the hope of the local authorities to regroup them, but in the end they have not shown interest in their return, according to sources from the city government.

Five regroups, which had already completed all the legal procedures, have also been frustrated, for the moment, due to the lack of collaboration of the Moroccan authorities. “It depends on the will of Morocco. The agents have to allow the parents to enter Ceuta or to approach the border so that the public entity verifies that the children do not show rejection when they see their relatives. That delivery of the children, with good criteria in my opinion, should be done to the parents themselves and not to the police ”, explains Puerta. The only reunions that have been possible have been with relatives who were already in the Peninsula. Only nine, according to the data managed by the Minors’ Area of ​​the local Government.

During the first days it was also expected that a good part of the children would be declared adults after tests to determine their age. But it is not being that way either. So far, 229 forensic examinations have been initiated on the kids who appeared to be older, around 120 tests have been carried out and about 70 results have been obtained. “Virtually all” has revealed that they do not reach 18 years, according to the prosecutor.

There is an added problem to put some order in the situation, according to Puerta: the slowness of the Police to review the minors, register them in the official registry and give them a NIE number. This procedure is essential to formally identify them, to carry out age determination tests, prepare and record their clinical history, manage their possible repatriation, guardianship or future transfer. It is the first and most basic procedure for them to enter the protection system. “It is very slow. They are very few and without identification we cannot continue ”, he warns. Sources familiar with the situation point out that, in the month that has elapsed since the massive entries, the police have reviewed 1,108 minors, but have only registered just over 200 in the official registry.

The solution remains unspecified and will not be immediate. “I do not see any good solution,” laments the prosecutor. “The only thing is to transfer them to the Peninsula or to Europe and speak with entities that can take charge because public administrations do not have enough capacity,” defends Puerta. The city is in fact studying how to send minors to the Peninsula and that specialized NGOs are responsible for their reception, without depending on the solidarity and funds of the autonomous governments. At first, it was thought of delegating the guardianship of children to the entities as well, but this procedure would further lengthen the process. The city already assumes that it will be the legal guardian of the kids, even if they are later welcomed in another place. Only that process of formalizing the guardianship can be delayed under normal circumstances for a minimum of three months.

Minor hot returns

At the end of May, the Prosecutor’s Office received a complaint from the NGO Coordinadora de Barrios that has prompted Puerta to investigate the expulsions of children, outside of any legal framework, which took place the week of May 16. The letter denounced the hot return of Ashraf, a 16-year-old Moroccan teenager, who entered the Tarajal beach with a float made of plastic bottles and implored the military to understand him. His expulsion was recorded on video by the photojournalist Jon Nazca of the Reuters agency and, already in Morocco, Ashraf told EL PAÍS how the Spanish military had forced him to return, not once, but twice. Two other writings from Fundación Raíces and the Plataforma de Infancia were added to the complaint, requesting that it investigate this and other returns.

The prosecutor is now seeking to know what happened at that gate of the fence that separates both countries and, for this, he asked the General Command of Ceuta to inform him of what were the orders and instructions regarding the return of minors, vetoed ex profeso in the last Constitutional ruling on hot returns. Still no response. The Prosecutor’s Office does have the images that it requested from the agency and in them, according to the prosecutor, “you see the military expelling not only one minor, but several.” He has also seen the images provided by the Civil Guard, although in them the detail of what happened is not appreciated, he explains.

“That there were returns of minors is clear, they can be seen in the images,” says Puerta. “Now we have to identify who the perpetrator is and study whether it is a crime or not,” he explains. “The author can be the military or the superior who gave the order or know if the order came from higher.” “The procedure for the repatriation of minors is contemplated in the law and non-compliance may be a crime of prevarication or an administrative offense,” he says. “For it to be a crime it is necessary that the order be arbitrary, contrary to the law and there is no logical way to explain the departure from the law.”

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