| 26 February 2024, Monday |

Scared, hungry and homeless: Plight of hundreds of migrant children in Ceuta

Moroccan migrants, who are mostly aged 16 and 17, came to Spain for a better life because in Morocco there is “no life, no work, no money”.

Yassine Yerrou divides his nights between the mountains in Spain’s North African enclave Ceuta and a makeshift tent propped up by discarded ironing boards behind the litter-strewn breakwaters that run along Benitez beach. Mattresses are fashioned from cardboard boxes.

“I’ve got nothing at home,” said Yassine, 17, from the northern Morocco city of Tetouan. “But I don’t want to stay in Ceuta, I want to go to mainland Spain. I’m surviving on bread and any food people give me on the street.”

He and his friend Marwan Tojguani, 16, from the town of Martil in Tangier, are among hundreds of migrant children who arrived in Ceuta   in May when Morocco loosened its borders, leaving Spanish officials scrambling to cope with a humanitarian and diplomatic crisis.

The boys choose not to live in the stark warehouses intended to house migrant children, instead preferring to sleep rough on the streets, in parks, mountainside or in between concrete sea defences in subhuman conditions on the beachfront.Like many fearful migrant children hiding out from police in Ceuta, Marwan, who speaks only Arabic and carries his life belongings in a half-empty plastic bag, moves from one neighbourhood to the next seeking shelter, food and water, trying to avoid violent confrontations. He never spends more than a night at a time in one place.

He chose not to seek medical help when he was subjected to a recent racist attack at the hands of locals. “The suckers burned my face with a lit cigarette,” said Marwan, who was orphaned at the age of two when his parents died in a car crash in Morocco. “These men pinned me down and burned my face. They told me to get out of Ceuta. The burns are really sore but I didn’t go to hospital because I’m afraid they’ll send me back to Morocco.”

More than a month after the unprecedented influx of approximately 8,000 migrants in Ceuta on May 17 and 18, some 1,500 migrant children – some as young as 10 – continue to be ‘housed’ across three overcrowded warehouses that are not fit for purpose and are in violation of children’s rights, according to a report into the crisis by No Name Kitchen, Maakum Ceuta and ELIN.Under Spanish law, migrant children who arrive in Spain have the same rights as Spanish children and cannot be returned to their home country without their consent. However, while about 200 were relocated to other parts of Spain , many were returned irregularly, against their will and against international protocol.