Repatriations which put human lives in danger

Repatriations which put human lives in danger

Thu, 20/02/2020 - 13:04


Rights. Migrant repatriations are the order of the day, but what happens when expulsions put those repatriated in physical danger.

A recent press release by the Jesuit Service for Migrants denounces the Spanish government’s practice of repatriating sub-Saharan citizens from third-party countries to Mauritania, particularly people from Mali. These are not the first repatriations of this type, as the agreement signed with Mauritania in 2003 allowed for the repatriation thereafter of people supposedly reaching Spain from there. Yet according to the UNHCR, the return of Malians is of particular concern because of the war that has been going in Mali since 2012.

Mauritania is not a safe country

The repatriation of Malians to Mauritania puts those repatriated in danger for two reasons. Josetxo Ordóñez, a lawyer for Migrastudium, part of the Jesuit Service for Migrants, explains: “Firstly, there’s no international protection awaiting them in Mauritania that allows them to get established there and not have to return to their country of origin, something they would have a right to according to the Geneva convention of 1951, as there is still a war in Mali. On top of that, Mauritania itself doesn’t respect human rights: freedom of expression, association and peaceful gathering is restricted, and torture and mistreatment in custody are commonplace”.

Repatriations based on assumptions

One of the things that make the latest repatriations to Mauritania (three in under a year) worthy of even more criticism is the assumption that those being repatriated had reached Spain from Mauritania. “Even though geographically that could be justified, no proof was provided of their travelling through Mauritania and as a result the repatriations should not have happened. But as there’s no agreement for return with Mali, Spanish authorities find these gaps for forced returns”, explains Ordóñez.

“Cost and convenience are key factors, even though we’re talking about people’s fate”

‘Convenience’ in organising repatriations

The lawyer for Migrastadium explains that these gaps appear in the context of police decisions (and political ones) which he calls “administrative convenience”. In other words, the use of mechanisms that facilitate repatriations. Justification though agreements with third-party countries such as Mauritania and Morocco, another pass-through country, is one of these mechanisms, but Ordóñez also talks of optimising planes and filling them by looking for and detaining people in the streets as another example. Similarly, realising that a police van is heading to the south of Spain to send detainees from foreigner internment centres (CIE) from the north, so that they are ‘easily’ deportable. “Express deportations are those which happen within 72 hours of being detained, and sometimes they’re also the result of a situation or logistical coincidence on the part of the police authorities. Cost and convenience are key factors in repatriations, even though we’re talking about people’s fate”, denounces Ordóñez.

Summary deportations taking into account the latest sentence by the ECHR

The sentence of 13 February by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), amending the sentence which condemned Spain for the deportation of two young people expelled from Melilla in 2014, would appear to legalise ‘summary deportations’. But according to the Jesuit Service for Migrants and the Spanish Refugee Aid Commission (CEAR), although this is very bad news for asylum seekers and entities providing support for them, it would be a mistake to see this ruling as legitimising the procedure of summary deportation.

According to the CEAR, “it shouldn’t be interpreted as general legal backing for collective deportations, particularly bearing in mind that the ECHR based its decision on the fact that some people could have requested asylum at a place on the border with Melilla, despite the fact that no sub-Saharan has been able to access that place since it was created”.

NGOs and human rights activists have been denouncing summary deportations by Spanish authorities for a long time. These expulsions occur regularly without the necessary legal or social assistance, making them an illegal practice.