Sunday

25th Aug 2019

Interview

EU preparing 'concentration camps' for migrants in Africa

  • Martinez: "I could face charges of human trafficking" (Photo: EUobserver)

Europe and Morocco are increasing the suffering of migrants, including children, on the EU's only land border with Africa, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Tangiers has said.

EU plans to build asylum centres in Morocco would create "concentration camps for people who have no rights," Santiago Agrelo Martinez also told EUobserver.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Martinez' church provided "holy sanctuary" from Moroccan police (Photo: EUobserver)

The cleric, whose church has helped migrants in Tangiers, on Morocco's Mediterranean Sea coast, for the past 11 years, said more people had come there after Italy and Libya cracked down on sea crossings.

Moroccan people used to help them and police used to leave them alone, but in June Moroccan authorities began punishing assistance, rounding up migrants, and deporting them, Martinez said.

People came from all over Africa fleeing poverty, conflict, and political repression, as well as "social violence", such as arranged marriages, he said.

They "abandon their homes and follow routes filled by death, by suffering, humiliations, violations of every sort," he noted.

But when they arrived at the EU gate in Africa, they were now forced into hiding in the forests around the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla and in wasteland near Tangiers airport, he said.

The archbishop, who personally hands out food in the forests, said "they're cold, they fall ill, they're hungry - their situation was already difficult, and now they're being hunted and they face social rejection".

Many of them were lone teenagers or women with infants, he said.

"Last week, I saw a family with babies sleeping in the entrance to the cathedral here. I couldn't bring them in because I would face charges of human trafficking, but I couldn't sleep knowing they were there," he said.

The anti-immigrant wave in EU politics, as in Italy, espoused "a discourse that turned migrants into a threat, a danger," he said.

Spain's left-wing government had made "gestures" that grabbed "headlines" by taking in migrants from the charity boat Aquarius after Italy had rejected them in August, the Spanish churchman noted.

But Spain showed its true colours a few days later when it expelled 116 people who had crossed into Ceuta back to Morocco without giving them a chance to file asylum claims, he said.

It did so on the basis of a 1992 "readmission" agreement with Morocco.

"The Spanish government sent them back, via Spanish territory [Ceuta], without any legal support, without any judge deciding on their cases, ignoring the fundamental rights of these people," Martinez said.

Ceuta: Other EU signs, in no-photo zones, were wrapped in barbed wire (Photo: EUobserver)

Nothing to eat

EUobserver spoke to a handful of migrants who were outside Martinez' cathedral in Tangiers city centre, where police let them be due to the old taboo of "holy sanctuary", the archbishop joked.

"At home, I didn't have enough to eat ... I want to come to Europe to develop my talent as a footballer. I want to be like Cristiano Ronaldo [a Portuguese football star]," Keita, a 16-year old boy from Cote D'Ivoire, told this website.

His friends had bought him a plane ticket to Morocco, but now he needed to save €3,000 to €5,000 to buy an EU visa from corrupt Moroccan officials or to pay smugglers for a boat ride to Spain, he said.

"The [Moroccan] police drive around and when they see blacks, they grab us, beat us, and take us to the Mauritanian border, where we have to beg for money to eat and to make it back [here]," he added.

"They treat us like animals," he said.

Fatima, a 22-year old woman, had walked from Senegal with her three-year old son and six-year old daughter. She gave birth to her third child on the way.

"We had nothing to eat after my husband left us, so I came by foot with my kids. I came by foot even though I was pregnant," she said.

Amina, another 22-year old Senegalese woman, had also walked.

"We suffered a lot on the way because there was very little to eat," she said.

"There's nothing to do in Senegal. There's no way to earn a living. When I get to Europe, I just want to work," she said.

Concrete corridors at Ceuta crossing (Photo: EUobserver)

Fortress EU

The EU border control agency, Frontex, said there were 6,500 irregular crossings into Spain in September and 35,500 in the first three quarters of this year.

That indicates there are thousands of people like Keita, Fatima, and Amina hiding in the forests of Morocco, even if they are invisible on city streets.

If they try to make it to Ceuta, or use roads leading to the sea crossing to Spain, they face Moroccan military police and army checkpoints.

They then face Ceuta's double, six-metre high wire fences, which are fitted with infra-red, motion, and noise detectors.

If they go to Ceuta's main gate, maybe with a dodgy visa, the symbolism of "rejection" is also clear.

The gate itself resembles the crossing from Egypt to Gaza, with hundreds of metres of concrete and wire-cage corridors under video surveillance.

These lead to a sign - a blue disc with 12 gold stars - which marks the EU border and which is wrapped in razor wire.

In the background, on a hill, Ceuta's fortress, which dates back centuries, brings to mind the phrase "Fortress Europe" used by diplomats in the salons of Brussels to describe the EU's closed-door policy.

The Moroccan crackdown on migrants coincided with EU plans to reward African states who stopped people from coming.

The EU is also pushing to create asylum-processing centres in Morocco and Tunisia, but the archbishop denounced this plan in strident terms.

Moroccan traders head home from 'Spain' after a day's work (Photo: EUobserver)

EU slaves?

"These are concentration camps for people who have no rights," he said.

EU politicians treated Africans as if they were "subhuman or second-class" people who were there to serve Europe's economy, he said.

"We treat them like slaves ... If we want them, we take them from their homes and countries to work on our [agricultural] land, but if we don't need them, even though they're hungry, we enclose them in camps," he said.

Most ordinary Europeans were kind enough to help people in need, the archbishop said, but populist politicians, such as Italy's new leaders, were "pitting us against each other" by appealing to "selfishness and fear" and were "weakening European society".

"They're sniffing around for where to get votes," he said.

The EU needed a "new project" to welcome people in large numbers, but lacked the "inner strength" to do it, he added.

Pope Francis, who belongs to the same Franciscan monastic order as Martinez, and with whom he had spoken on the subject, shared his views, Martinez said, but he said many Vatican officials, cardinals, and bishops also thought African migrants should be sent home.

"The future of Europe, and even more so the future of the [Roman Catholic] church, will depend on what we do with migration," he said.

"There is a crisis, but it's not the migrants who are causing it, it's European society," he said.

"To say that migrants are undermining the European project isn't correct. It's not the migrants who are doing this, it's Europe itself," he said.

EU looks at Morocco and Tunisia to offload migrants

EU member states and the European Commission are pressing ahead with plans to possibly use Morocco and Tunisia as countries to offload asylum seekers and migrants - part of larger bid to create a so-called "safe third country" list.

EU ready to shore up Morocco migrant funding

The European Commission says it is ready to boost spending in Morocco when it comes to stop migrant hopefuls from reaching Spain by boat. The money follows demands for help from Madrid as irregular arrival numbers spike in Spain.

Open Arms may face fine in Spain 

Open Arms may face a fine of up to €901,000 for doing "search and rescue" without authorisation, but rescuing people who are shipwrecked is a legal duty, the NGO says.

Feature

EU asked to solve migrant rescue deadlock

No EU country willing to open its ports for the Spanish rescue ship Open Arms, with France and others turning to the European Commission for help.

News in Brief

  1. Ocean Viking to disembark in Malta after ordeal
  2. Germany joins France in world outcry on Brazil fires
  3. British people lose faith in Brexit deal
  4. Brexit hardliners want further changes to EU deal
  5. German manufacturers confirm fear of recession
  6. Belgian socialists and liberals scrap over EU post
  7. Fall in EU migration leading to UK skills shortages
  8. Switzerland makes post-Brexit flight preparations

Analysis

Pentagon: ISIS is resurgent in Syria

The US department of defence warns that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is working on a come back in Syria. It is regrouping and supporting activities. This might trigger a new refugee displacement to Europe.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  5. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  7. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  8. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  9. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  10. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North

Latest News

  1. Spain heading for yet another general election
  2. EU to discuss Brazil beef ban over Amazon fires
  3. 'Our house is burning,' Macron says on Amazon fires
  4. What happens when trafficking survivors get home
  5. EU states and Russia clash on truth of WW2 pact
  6. EU considers new rules on facial recognition
  7. EU to pledge Africa security funds at G7 summit
  8. Letter from the EESC on per diem article

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  4. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  7. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  12. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  2. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  3. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  5. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  6. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us