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“We did not leave the war to live in a prison”

On May 28, Lilan (not her real name) waited with her gear ready and her children decked out to board a ferry from Melilla to Malaga with more than 130 people. He had been there since February, when he entered the Center for the Temporary Stay of Immigrants (CETI), longing for the transfer from the autonomous city to the Peninsula. When he was queuing, they took the boy’s temperature. “I had a fever and they would not let us board,” says this 31-year-old Kurdish-Syrian mother. “Since then there has been no other way out.” Lilan watched her chance vanish by a few tenths.

More than 1,300 people live together in the CETI of Melilla, a center managed by the Secretary of State for Migration that does not belong to the refugee and asylum network and whose facilities are prepared to house 782 residents. The situation has become unsustainable in the interior, where migrants and asylum seekers remain overcrowded after the blockade of the Ministry of the Interior to the periodic transfers to the Peninsula that served to reduce the saturation of the center.

“We are tired of being here, living together is very complicated,” protests Lilan. The appearance of a covid-19 outbreak in the CETI in mid-August highlighted the precariousness of the situation. The city government requested the confinement of the residents at least twice, but both times the court overturned the closure. After confirming at least 25 positives and some 350 close contacts, the local administration is now proposing to confine groups of migrants and move the suspects to improvised facilities in sports facilities.

The halt in transfers and the worsening of the epidemiological situation is joined by a strenuous and long-standing bureaucracy. According to Josep Buades, legal head of the Jesuit Migrant Service, many of the people who have entered the city in recent months find that they cannot complete some procedures because the paperwork has not been handled on time.

“I can’t take it here anymore”, Zainab ditch, also Syrian. Her name has been included on the list of transfers up to four times (during the state of alarm, two transfers already scheduled were aborted) and all four have been dropped from the list because her five-month-old baby, born in Melilla during the state of alarm, it is not registered. “In the (civil) registry they tell me that they have to manage it from the CETI; at the CETI, go to the registry. We have been here for eight months, ”says Zainab, who lost two other children in Syria.

With a population of 86,000, Melilla is home to nearly 2,000 migrants and asylum seekers, in addition to some 500 Moroccans trapped in the city since Morocco blocked the border crossings on March 13. During the de-escalation, the Secretary of State for Migration decided to close the CETI to new entries due to the saturation of the facilities. The local government then enabled the bullring, which currently houses more than 450 people.

Despite the fact that arrivals have fallen by 55.7% compared to the previous year (1,243 people entered Melilla between January and September, compared to 2,806 in 2019), the city registers the greatest pressure in the last five years due to the impossibility of making effective the returns or repatriations of people to Morocco or their countries of origin.

The local PP, in opposition, has already asked that no more reception spaces be provided because “Melilla has no health, physical or moral capacity.” The answer comes after the president, Eduardo de Castro (Cs), has presented to the Government Delegation two open-air spaces that could be conditioned as covid-19 centers in which to isolate suspected cases. Both the workers of the center and the Official College of Doctors of the city have published calls for help in the face of the “unacceptable epidemiological situation.”

“We came out of the war to live better, not to live in a prison,” claims Lilan, who escaped from Kobani in 2015. And adds: “I am not afraid of the coronavirus, I do not care if they lock me up, it affects me more for the children ”.