The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) has for the first time condemned a long-standing systematic practice at the Spanish-Moroccan border of push backs or ‘expulsiones en caliente’ to unaccompanied migrant minors (UASCs) in a decision that upholds the rights of UASCs at Europe’s borders.

“This decision of the UN Committee makes me happy. I want the whole world to know about it and that these violations never happen again”, says D.D. from Mali, who was pushed back from Melilla (Spain) to Morocco in December 2014 while being a minor fleeing the war in Mali. DD climbed the border fences and entered into Spain, but the Spanish Guardia Civil handcuffed and returned him to the Moroccan forces. He was not identified as a minor and had no possibility to see a lawyer or translator.

The decision has come in response to a complaint submitted by D.D. in November 2015 with the support of his lawyers, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and Fundación Raíces a Spanish NGO specialized in migrant children. ICJ, ECRE, the AIRE Center and the Dutch Council for Refugees also intervened as a third party in the case. The CRC has specifically found that Spain’s practice is in violation of the best interest of the child (Art 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child), the special protection of UASCs (Art 20) and the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment (Art 37). Further, the CRC obliges Spain to amend the legal regime authorizing automatic expulsions in Ceuta and Melilla in order to prevent these violations in the future and orders Spain to redress the complainant for the harm suffered.

“The decision sets a precedent for the protection of the rights of unaccompanied minors not only at the Spanish-Moroccan border, but at land borders in general”, said ECCHR’s partner lawyer Carsten Gericke, who is D.D.’s legal representative. Further, the president of Fundación Raíces added that “This case shows that Spain prioritises migration control over the protection of children. Spain has to stop disregarding basic rights at the border and implement the Committee’s demands”.

This case is one of a series of strategic legal actions challenging the push-backs at Europe’s borders and calling for a full protection of children’s best interest, which have been brought to the UN mechanisms and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) by several NGOs, including ECRE. In October 2017, the ECtHR found that Spain’s push-back practice violates the European Convention on Human Rights (in the N.D. and N.T. v Spain case). A final decision by the Court’s Grand Chamber is pending.

Spain has become Europe’s main entry point for refugees and migrants, overtaking Greece and Italy. The number of migrant children increased in 2018, with 12,437 minors being in the care of autonomous communities of Spain by the end of 2018.

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Photo: (CC) José Saéz, July 2012

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin . You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.