The European United Left–Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) Group in the European Parliament sounded the alarm over violations of migrant children’s rights in Melilla, a Spanish autonomous city located on the north coast of Africa, sharing a border with Morocco.

After visiting Melilla, GUE/NGL MEPs found children in centres and on the streets. Even those born in Melilla are undocumented and not entitled to attend school.

GUE/NGL MEPs Malin Björk (Sweden) and Josu Juaristi (Basque Country) heard reports of children being separated from parents for up to two months while their DNA was being checked with no rights or a very limited right for parents to see their own child. This has lead to cases of new mothers not being able to breastfeed babies and considerable psychological distress for both mothers and children. Cases of sexual abuse of boys and girls were also reported to the delegation.

In the La Purisima centre that currently hosts 445 unaccompanied minors, visiting MEPs estimated that more than 100 of the children do not have a bed.

“The conditions in the centre are not acceptable. When it is overcrowded like this, it is inevitable that some will leave and instead live on the streets,” said Malin Björk. “Minors have specific rights and we must always look to the best interests of the child. In this case, it means that minors will have to be transferred to the mainland in order to provide decent conditions.”

“The situation of children living on the street is desperate, they urgently need specific care. This is a duty of the state, that the state is not abiding by,” she added.

The MEPs also warned that the approach envisaged by Melilla’s local authorities to return minors to the places they escape from would involve additional violations of children’s rights. Instead, they support the proposal made by the Spanish Parliament, and supported by Save the Children, to transfer children to the mainland and distribute them among the different regions of Spain.

“Ultimately we need to have a solution at the European level, both for adults and children, to share the responsibility for people seeking protection in Europe. This is the position of the European Parliament, and it is high time that governments show their commitment to this”, said Björk.

According to Juaristi, the situation is that of “another generation trapped in fear and rejection, in a spiral of poverty and desperation, without healthcare or schooling, without employment or a future, on the streets or in so-called reception centres where they live in terrible conditions, overcrowded, always with the police or private security services on their backs”.

“And all this happens in front of everybody willing to see it, but repressed, utilised, and made invisible by the Moroccan and Spanish governments, and the EU,” he said.