Spain’s Supreme Court ruled Monday that authorities acted illegally when they sent unaccompanied child migrants back to Morocco after thousands of people forced their way from the North African country onto Spanish soil in 2021.
Hundreds of unaccompanied minors were among a surge of around 10,000 people who tried to enter Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in North Africa, by scaling a border fence or swimming around it.
Many were believed to be sub-Saharan migrants seeking a better life in Europe. Morocco later took back most of the migrants.
Spain’s Interior Ministry defended sending the unaccompanied children back across the border, arguing that they wanted to go home. Spanish officials denied accusations by rights groups that the returns breached international law.
Spain is legally obliged to care for young migrants until their relatives can be located or until they turn 18, but officials said that a 2007 agreement between Spain and Morocco for assisted returns once children’s cases had been considered.
The Supreme Court judges rejected arguments that the 2007 agreement superseded Spanish law and said the mass return contravened the European Convention on Human Rights.
Tens of thousands of migrants from sub-Saharan countries try to reach Spain each year in large open boats launched from northwest Africa. Most go to the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean, while others try to cross the Mediterranean Sea to mainland Spain or scale Ceuta’s fence.