Orphaned during a coup in his homeland Guinea, teenager Moussa Camara took to sea in a wooden boat with 240 other migrants, enduring an 11-day voyage, half of it without food and fresh water, before reaching the Canary Islands.
Twenty people died en route, their bodies dropped in the sea, the travellers said, more victims of one of the world’s most perilous migrant routes.
Yet when Camara made it on Oct. 27 exhausted, famished and nursing sores from the sun, another problem beset him: police registered him as an adult and he was not allowed into a centre for minors with the better opportunities available.
“We are children … they betrayed us,” he said with a friend also classed as an adult at an old military base in Tenerife’s mountains, where some 2,000 migrants await transfers to mainland Spain or permission to go elsewhere in Europe.
Though a bone test would be required to prove his age, Red Cross papers endorse Camara’s insistence that he is 15 and not 18 as the police said, registering both him and his friend with the same birth date of Jan. 1, 2005.
Classing him as an adult means that instead of receiving extra support to find residency and education until 18, he will be required to fend for himself alone almost immediately.
The mix-up shows just how overwhelmed the Spanish archipelago is, Canary Islands president Fernando Clavijo told Reuters, after a record 32,000 migrants came so far this year.
“We have neither the resources nor the calm to deal with the avalanche coming in,” he added, blaming police for processing errors as about 100 minors a day poured into the archipelago.
Spain’s national government was washing its hands of the issue, having only offered to relocate 347 minors to other regions until December, he said.
The ministries of the interior and migration directed questions to the public prosecutor’s office.
It told Reuters it had looked into 48 cases of suspected minors at Las Raices in recent months, of which four were confirmed, 30 sent to a children’s facility pending age tests, and the other 14 still in assessment.
Fran Morenilla, a migration lawyer in the southern Spanish city of Almeria, said he was seeing a high number of minors arriving in mainland Spain who had been registered as adults in the Canary Islands.
“This is not a one-off case,” he said.