Hundreds of young people are returning voluntarily to Morocco, after realising that they can neither work nor eat in Ceuta

Los arrepentidos del Tarajal

Tarajal Marruecos España

In groups of 40 people and every two hours. This is how the returns are being carried out at the Tarajal border, according to the agreement that the Spanish government has signed with Morocco. The order is to return all the adult Moroccans wandering around the city, and to guard the unaccompanied minors in the Tarajal warehouses. 

They have been wandering the streets of Ceuta for days without knowing what to do or where to go, they have slept outdoors in parks and have survived thanks to neighbours and organisations such as Caritas. They have been hungry, thirsty, cold at night and hot during the day. And the conclusion drawn by some of the young people we have spoken to is that they have not been compensated for risking their safety.

Social media and internet appeal effect 

Many recognise that the appeal was forged through social networks and the internet and that desperation made them throw themselves into the sea. Omar, 28, is one of these repentant young people who has arrived at the Tarajal border to cross to the other side and return home. "I came to be in Europe", he says. But in the end, he has decided to leave with a smile on his face, thanking the people of Ceuta for their hospitality and solidarity with the Moroccan people. Although he leaves with a bittersweet feeling: so much effort has not been worth it. 

Tarajal Marruecos España

The MENAS appear as Caritas passes by distributing food

Caritas is walking the streets. Its task is to hand out bags of food to young people wandering in every corner of Ceuta. Manuel Gestal, head of Cáritas in the autonomous city, says that the best way to avoid serious problems of coexistence with neighbours is to feed them. "If we provide them with food, we will surely prevent them from trying to steal or get food by other means", says Gestal. And he warns that "there are still many children hiding in the streets and on the beaches who appear just when we pass by with the van".

The European dream was closer than ever

Stories emerge almost unintentionally in the return queue. Uthman is a young man from Tetouan who arrived at the border with his hands up in peace. He left his town excited after seeing how his compatriots had crossed into Spain without any problems. He took a taxi with three friends who charged him 53 dirham (about 5 euros) each, and they went straight to Castillejos. And after a long silence, he then admits that without thinking too much about it, they jumped into the sea. They didn't understand why the border was open, but it didn't matter to them. The European dream was just a few hundred metres swim away and neither he nor any of his friends missed a unique opportunity. 

Tarajal Marruecos España
Bored and exhausted, Aiman returns to Morocco with a blank stare. He has been wandering around a city he doesn't know for three days, in his swimming costume and wearing a pair of trainers he got from an acquaintance because he lost his flip-flops in the sea. His story is no different from any other. He went to the mass appeal through social networks and the internet because he thought it was the opportunity of a lifetime. He didn't think twice. And when he arrived he realised that it was all a mirage. The European dream has vanished and he knows that sooner or later he will have to leave. Late on Thursday, Aiman stood in the returns queue at the Tarajal border. "I don't want to go back, but I recognise that I have no other way out", were his last words before crossing to the other side accompanied by several Spanish soldiers.

It is the same route taken by Mohamed, Adil and Ahmad. The latter - a 22-year-old boy who lives in Rincón - was in the voluntary returns queue talking to a mobile phone that he managed to bring back on that fateful morning of Monday 17 May. He told us his secret: he had brought the mobile phone wrapped in plastic bags and inside a fanny pack, and in the end the phone arrived intact even though Ahmad had been swimming for more than an hour.  Almost as he says goodbye, this young man confesses that he is leaving Ceuta quite emotionally affected. He crossed the southern border of Europe, achieved one of his dreams and three days later he is leaving because of the lack of opportunities in Spain. "Without work, money and food, there is little we can do here", Ahmad laments.

Tarajal Marruecos España

The drama of the MENAS who want to return to their parents

It is estimated that between 1,500 and 2,000 unaccompanied minors have entered Ceuta since Monday 17 May. Most did so by sea, but we have also seen kids trying to jump the fence or on foot over the rocks along the breakwater. And not all of them are in those Tarajal warehouses with the Red Cross volunteers, but many remain wandering the streets of the autonomous city aimlessly, begging for money or food at traffic lights and sleeping in parks. 

A drama that is completed with their families looking for them on the other side of the border. Parents who do not know where their children are, who go to the Moroccan border in search of information and do not get it. And children who tell the Civil Protection volunteers that they want to return to their families. 

Tarajal Marruecos España

The telephone number for parents looking for their children: 956 51 24 13

Precisely to alleviate their anguish and to allow them to return to Morocco, the Government of the Autonomous City of Ceuta has set up an information telephone number through which they can start the procedures for family reunification. José Antonio Méndez, head of the Civil Protection volunteers in Ceuta, recounts the anguish and uncertainty of the children who are being held in the Tarajal warehouses or in the Piniers shelter (on the outskirts of the city). "They are still children. Many of them want to call their parents and tell us that they are sorry and want to go back", he says. "Those of us who are parents have a harder time because it touches our heartstrings," says the Civil Protection spokesman, who is coordinating an extraordinary and unprecedented operation these days. 

And then there are the "disappeared", many of them are still wandering around the city without even having been registered, but it is clear to them that they do not want to go to the industrial warehouses in Tarajal. They hide wherever they can so as not to be detected by the National Police border control patrols that make raids at all hours of the day. And some openly admit that they do not want to return to Morocco because what they will find on the other side is more of the same: their reality. 

Text and photos Diana Rodríguez Pretel