UN condemns Spain’s pushback policy

Unaccompanied minors at the Spanish-Moroccan border

Spain – Pushbacks – Minors

Spanish authorities apprehend and summarily deport unaccompanied minors to Morocco without a procedure to identify them and protect their rights. This policy was strongly condemned by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in February 2019 in a decision that clearly upholds the fundamental rights of unaccompanied minors at Europe’s borders.

This was the first UNCRC decision on pushbacks. It now defines international legal standards for the treatment of unaccompanied minors at borders, as acknowledged by the European Court of Human Rights. In finding violations of the applicant's rights, the UNCRC obliged Spain to compensate him and take all steps to prevent similar violations. In particular, the UNCRC required Spain to revise its special legal regime authorizing automatic expulsions from Ceuta and Melilla. ECCHR has repeatedly called upon Spain to implement the decision in subsequent reports.

Although the legal provisions on expulsions at the Ceuta and Melilla borders have not been amended, the Spanish Constitutional Court has since highlighted that they include an obligation to respect international human rights, and the Court underlined the necessity to define protocols ensuring the identification and protection of unaccompanied minors. In 2021, Spanish authorities, reported that they are identifying and not summarily expelling unaccompanied minors. 


DD - at the time an unaccompanied minor from Mali - was pushed back from Melilla to Morocco in December 2014. He had climbed the border fences and entered into Spain, but the Spanish Guardia Civil immediately apprehended and handcuffed him before returning him directly to Moroccan forces. To challenge his unlawful return, DD filed an individual communication against Spain in November 2015 with the support of ECCHR and Fundación Raíces.

The committee’s final decision found Spain’s practice to be in violation of several provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, namely the best interest of the child (Article 3), the special protection of unaccompanied minors (Article 20) and the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment (Article 37). 


Spain has implemented a policy of automatic summary expulsions to Morocco from its enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on the northern coast of Africa since 2005. It was the first European country to ground pushbacks in national law in 2015. Since Spain affords no real access to border posts to allow people on the move to apply for international protection from Morocco, they have no option but to climb the border fences separating Morocco from Spain.

Black persons in particular are racially profiled by Moroccan authorities and cannot even approach the border without being turned away. Dozens of those who have tried to cross via the border fences have been killed, many more disappeared, and some arrested and prosecuted. The majority are violently forced back to Morocco and left to live in dire conditions with no access to protection.

Today, minors also continue to be pushed back without an individual assessment of their situation, although they should enjoy particular safeguards. Spain's forced returns represent a flagrant violation of fundamental human rights and EU law, and complete disregard of the rule of the law. 


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glossary (3)


Individual complaints

An individual complaint mechanism allows individuals, groups and in some cases NGOs to seek enforcement of their rights. Various individual complaint mechanisms exist for the enforcement of rights guaranteed under international law. Individual complaints can be brought before certain regional courts, such as the European Court of Human Rights, when all domestic remedies have been exhausted.

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Kilometers of barbed wire exclusion fences, thousands of high-tech patrols at sea, in the air and on land, pushback agreements with neighboring countries: the European Union goes to great lengths to exclude people fleeing from war, persecution and hardship in their home countries. To justify their actions leaders in Brussels and the EU member states claim the pushbacks are politically necessary and permitted under law.

Every other week another boat carrying migrants and refugees capsizes or sinks off the coast of Italy or Malta. Witnesses frequently report instances of abuse at the borders between Turkey and Greece. There is a steady climb in the number of people who lose their lives while trying to cross the Moroccan-Spanish border. All of these events serve as evidence of the terrible failure of the EU’s asylum and refugee policies.

Illegal pushbacks or forced returns at EU borders represent a flagrant violation of fundamental human rights and refugee laws. In the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on the northern coast of Africa, refugees and migrants are repeatedly subjected to brutal violence from border guards. Anyone attempting to enter these Spanish cities – and thereby reach EU territory – is immediately deported to Morocco without any examination of their right to asylum.

Since 2014, ECCHR has been examining the scope for legal intervention against the practice of pushbacks in the EU and has been helping affected persons with individual legal proceedings.


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