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Spain defends the return of unaccompanied child migrants to Morocco

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By Euronews with AP, AFP
Dozens of unaccompanied children crossed the border into the Spanish enclave of Ceuat in May.
Dozens of unaccompanied children crossed the border into the Spanish enclave of Ceuat in May.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Bernat Armangue, File
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Spain's interior minister has denied violating international law by sending unaccompanied child migrants back to Morocco.

Speaking on Spanish radio, Fernando Grande-Marlaska defended the policy, saying the refugees "wanted to go home".

International human rights groups had accused the Spanish government of violating the children's human rights by repatriating them.

But Grande-Marlaska told Cadena SER radio the return of the children from the Spanish enclave of Ceuta was "not an expulsion".

"The best interest of the child is guaranteed," he said, adding that vulnerable children were not sent back.

Hundreds of unaccompanied children were among a surge of 10,000 people who tried to enter Ceuta in May by scaling a border fence or swimming around it. Morocco has since taken back most of the migrants.

The child migrants are being returned in groups of 15, with some 800 child migrants earmarked for return.

Spain is legally-obliged obliged to care for young migrants until their relatives can be located or until they turn 18 years old.

But since Friday, groups of fifteen children have been repatriated under a 2007 agreement between Spain and Morocco for assisted returns, once children’s cases had been considered.

Amnesty International has asked prosecutors to look into the Spanish government’s conduct over the young migrants’ repatriation, while Save The Children has urged Madrid to assess the needs of each child and not deport them in groups.

According to their data, about a quarter of the migrant children it interviewed in Ceuta had suffered abuse in their homeland.

On Monday, a Spanish court suspended the repatriation of twelve young migrants who had asked the Spanish government for their help to stay.

Patricia Fernandez Vicens, a lawyer for the NGO, Coordinadora de Barrios, told AFP that the children are being returned to Morocco without access to legal representation, and welcomed the verdict.

The judicial decision is at least a temporary setback for the Spanish government, which has also faced opposition from its coalition partner Podemos over the repatriations.