Spain seeks help to relocate children from Ceuta migrant crisis

·2-min read
Thousands of migrants cross the Spanish-Moroccan border

By Jon Nazca and Belén Carreño

CEUTA/MADRID (Reuters) -Spain's government pleaded with mainland regions on Wednesday to relieve crammed reception centres for minors in the North African enclave of Ceuta where some 1,500 children and teenagers crossed this week from Morocco.

A source familiar with the talks said the Social Rights Ministry had held an emergency meeting on the issue where it asked regional authorities to accept hundreds of unaccompanied minors who had arrived before the latest surge.

"The regions have shown solidarity with the migration crisis and are positive about the proposal," the source told Reuters, expecting an agreement in coming days even though centres in regions such as Andalusia or the Canary Islands were already overcrowded.

Reuters TV footage showed hundreds of newly-arrived teenagers being processed at a Ceuta warehouse where Red Cross officials gave out food and drink.

In some of the most dramatic moments since the surge in migrant arrivals began on Monday, Reuters TV showed a boy appearing to be 13 to 14 years old swimming to Ceuta's beach with a dozen empty plastic bottles tied to his body as floatation devices.

He then tried to climb the parapet before being seized by soldiers who, gently but firmly, accompanied the crying boy through the gate to the security zone between the two countries. It was not immediately clear what happened later. Deporting minors is illegal in Spain.

Hundreds of migrants still braved tightened security to try to force their way into Ceuta on Wednesday, as Spain pressed on with expulsions of thousands who swam around or climbed over the border fence in the past two days.

Spanish police divers have rescued several small children from the water during the crossing and soldiers deployed at the border could be seen helping youngsters to climb ashore.

Of the thousands of migrants still in Ceuta, many were children, some as young as seven or nine, some without families, said Spain's Social Rights Minister Ione Belarre.

"We are working to address the issue of children who have come alone," she told broadcaster TVE. "Many of them did not know the consequences of crossing the border. And many of them want to go back. So we are working to make that possible."

Meanwhile, Santiago Abascal, the leader of the anti-immigrant far-right VOX party who visited Ceuta on Wednesday, accused Morocco of "launching minors like battering rams" against Spanish borders.

(Writing by Andrei Khalip;Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Bill Berkrot)