That of Hicham, a 21-year-old Moroccan, has been an odyssey of nights sleeping on the street, boarding refusals in the port of Melilla and a paper that proves his status as an asylum seeker. He managed to reach Almería last Saturday, after having tried to leave the autonomous city for more than a month. “Without a passport, they won’t let people travel,” she still complained in the autonomous city, before getting on board thanks to the accompaniment of a group of volunteers.
Like Hicham, hundreds of people, mostly Moroccans trapped in Ceuta and Melilla, have launched since June to register asylum applications in both cities with the intention of reaching the Peninsula. Since August 2020, successive rulings by the Supreme Court have endorsed the free movement of asylum seekers through the national territory, previously sentenced to remain in the autonomous cities pending the transfers periodically orchestrated by the Ministry of the Interior and which were detained for a long time. part of 2020.
Despite the Executive’s commitment to reinforce the offices in Ceuta and Melilla with more officials, the problem points to a lack of staff at the Asylum and Refugee Office (OAR) in Madrid. The delays in the procedures have created a bureaucratic window used by people in an irregular situation who see no other alternative: they cannot return to Morocco through a border that has been closed since March 2020 and, without papers, they cannot regularize their stay.
Spanish legislation shields the asylum procedure to grant a residence permit with different international protection status to people who escape persecution, conflict or other threats in their countries of origin. However, the lack of personnel in the OAR and the volume of requests received since 2018 has turned the deadlines established by law into a possibility of subterfuge used by migrants in Ceuta and Melilla to leave for the Peninsula. Applications must be accepted or not for processing in less than a month; from there, their admission is considered by administrative silence and anyone who has filed the request can move throughout the Spanish territory.
“Right now I have only one problem,” explains Abdelatif, who keeps in his pocket the long-awaited paper with the summons to formalize the asylum application process, “if I stay in Morocco, I have 20 more problems.” The man has been caring for an elderly man for more than 20 years in Melilla with a cross-border contract for which he was contributing to Social Security. When the border closed, he decided to stay on the Spanish side, and gave up going back to neighboring Nador when Rabat reopened the border in late 2020 to allow its nationals to return. The objective was to continue working in Melilla, which has allowed him to send his wife about 8,000 euros until his work permit expired.
In Ceuta, Younes is still debating whether or not to resort to asylum to leave the city. “Honestly, I am afraid of this asylum, I do not know the consequences,” says Younes. The 21-year-old man swam to Ceuta in May accompanied by his 16-year-old brother, who was returned to Morocco in less than 24 hours. “If they reject you (the application) they expel you and return you to Morocco and in Morocco they would arrest you for treason,” he explains.
Until 2020, asylum seekers in Ceuta and Melilla, the only Spanish towns with an exception to border control imposed in the European Schengen area, could not leave their 19 and 12 square kilometers, respectively. The decisions of the Supreme Court, which force to stop putting impediments to travel by boat or plane, came after years of litigation by organizations such as the Spanish Commission for Aid to Refugees (CEAR) and the Jesuit Service for Migrants, which ended for judicializing the administrative exception that prevented leaving the autonomous cities. In Ceuta alone, at least 1,230 people have managed to process an asylum application since June, according to the government delegate, Salvadora Mateos. In Melilla, the trend increased in April, after more than a hundred people stayed in the street after the closure of the bullring.