PhD opportunity

PhD Research Information

Unaccompanied minors’ because of EU-African cooperation on migration

Brief description:

1. Background
Europe is living in a time when the basic pillars of the Union are been questioned, such as the free movement of people through the Schengen Area. This multidimensional crisis is based on the collapse of the shelter and asylum system, the lack of solidarity to forced migration and the violation of international legislation. As a result, an increase of an authoritarian sentiment from several countries, xenophobia, anti-immigration and Euroscepticism, and the fracture of north-south and East-West relations is observed currently (Arango, Mahía, Moya, Sánchez, 2016). And these consequences cause legislative changes developing European agreements with third countries to act as border policemen (De Lucas, 2002). This is what Lucas calls "globalization of anger", mainly towards Muslim Africans.
The European approach to migration, and specifically to migration of minors, was developed during the two World Wars, when the need to protect children started. Firstly, the declaration of the Rights of the Child was created, when the elementary needs of children were first embodied. Secondly, after the Second World War, the rights were evolving to the base document on the subject of child protection: the Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1989, a legally binding instrument that affirms that the child is subject of rights (Ballesté, 2007).

Statement of the problem
EU-African policies and relations on migration are the key for both sides to deal with international mobility. However, there is a need of studying and analysing how formal meeting and statements connect with migrants’ reality.
On one hand, in Europe, the rights of children are leader by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, marked by three fundamental principles: equality and non-discrimination, the principle of the best interests of the child, related to the right to a dignified life, and the principle of non-refoulement. In addition, the Convention focuses on the right of family reunification, which is fundamental for the development of minors, based on respect for family life. However, in points where migration is visual, like the border city of Melilla, some minors are treated as irregular migrants and face some European policies like border and security control.
On the other side, African actors deal with face the reality of migrants crossing and leaving their countries. Morocco is a geopolitically strategic and relevant country, so its internal development influences both the Maghreb countries and Europe.
These good relations and the country's macroeconomic growth figures contrast with the unemployment, poverty and illiteracy rates the country has. According to World Bank data, 4.8% of people in Morocco live under the line of national poverty, 63.7% of young people between the ages of 15 and 29 are unemployed, and Morocco has no unemployment benefit. During the first semester of 2018, there were 89,000 unemployed in Morocco, of which 7.1% of them are unable to find a job (Annuaire Statistique du Maroc, 2018).
Following these conditions, Europe and Spain have invested big amount of money mainly on border control and deportation , meanwhile at least 1,282 Moroccan children fled Morocco to Spain (Prosecutor's Office of Spain, 2018. This comparison proves European policies are not working in the way were expected.
"In Moroccan youth immigration, emigrating is synonymous with liberation" (Khachini, 2004). In 2015, the salary was around 13.46 dirhams the hour (1.20 euros). With these low salaries, families have a hard time to get their basic needs. If we link this with the Moroccan patriarchal culture in which man must economically support the family, then many minors are forced to leave school, or study and work at the same time.

If a family complications to feed their children we add that the abandonment of a child is penalized by law, a solution is placed in institutions where they take care of the child . Hundreds of children and youngers walk around the Moroccan-Melilla border to get into. According to the report on children in Morocco, only in Casablanca, there would be about 25,000 minors in the street situation.
247,000 children between 7 and 17 years old have worked in 2017. Of these, 162,000 are jobs of a dangerous nature. Moreover, 81.4% of them left school and 8% have never gone.
All these pressures within the family, with the visiting of young people who have already emigrated and come back for holidays to Morocco with new clothes and a new European lifestyle, generate a shared imaginary social environment (Suárez, 2006).
Then, a desire to reach that goal has been created: the European dream. With the feeling of freedom and autonomy that is generated by commenting on the situations of success among others, the minor initiates his transnational journey.
Mohamed Khachani states that "the phenomenon of clandestine emigration basically expresses the economic disparities that characterize both shores" (Khachani, 2004). Just as Morocco has a GDP of 109.1 billion USD, Spain is at 1.311 trillion. Following Morocco's strategic geopolitical position, the European Commission initiated commitments to help Morocco with migratory pressure .

This increase of Moroccans in Spain, and therefore to Europe, is due to a change in the migratory route, which causes changes in the profiles of migrants and their destinations (Trajectories, 2018). The entrance to Europe through the Mediterranean has changed very little since the 20th century. Specifically, the doors to the European continent through Greece, Italy, and Spain is the most used, so if you close that track, you use another .

The disorders that these minors, which enter Tangier, Ceuta, and Melilla; promote the criminalization of these minors, the creation of an image of elusive and violent children seeking to get the most of the Spanish State protection system. There tensions arrives when it comes to admitting minors in Spain, so the idea that these children are emancipated after the migration, comes out.

Significance of the study and research questions
European Union financed Spanish Asylum, migration and Integration Fund’ projects with 20.870.327,93 euros, mainly used for deportation. And during 2017, 2,345 unaccompanied minors arrived on the Spanish coast in “pateras” or similar boats. This means an increase of 398% in comparison with the previous year, when 588 minors entered Melilla. And among these minors, more than 55% are Moroccan children (Prosecutor's Office, 2017). The prosecution admits that, as it has already happened in previous years, there is no record of minors entering through vehicles or as stowaways on ships docking in ports. Why does European Union invest in more in border control and security than in social integration? Why if EU has signed several Human Rights conventions? Does EU consider migrants have different rights than Europeans? Is the European Union's discourse coherent with its political and social actions towards migration?
In the case of Spain, the first European country these minors step on, why if by law, in the maximum period of 9 months, Melilla has to provide the documentation to the minor, this does not happen? Why is it not provided?
These questions are developed in a theoretical framework where migrations are analysed in a downward way: starting with international and the legal framework involved and European policies connected to youth migration, and more specifically with the migrations from Morocco to Spain, as it is the first frontier country. Moreover, it is interesting to study and compare the migratory and juvenile policies of different European countries, as is the case of Belgium, with a large percentage of Moroccan migration, and other African actors relevant for this migration as Libya and Algeria.
What are the consequences for a child at a personal development age, to grow up in a street situation? How do these minors develop once they are adults in European countries? Is the lack of interest on the part of Melilla, Spain and Europe to children living in the streets a measure to force children to return to Morocco?
Is a minor an economic migrant? Forced displacement is considered as such when a person is forced out of his or her country of origin or region because of being at risk of serious or systematic violation of human rights. If minors leave their homes and families in search of a dignified life because of the economic conditions of Morocco, the high level of unemployment, the precariousness in the job offer and the impoverishment of the humble classes: is the family reunification in the country of origin the search for the best interests of the child? Why are they not grouped with family members who reside in Europe?

Objectives of the research
This research seeks to explain the situation of unaccompanied minors’ to EU-African cooperation: analysing what EU negotiates with third countries to deal with minors; migration and how they receive these political and economic strategies. Understand the legislative framework at European and national level and agreements with African countries, know why children migrate from Morocco, how the EU-African cooperation in the field of migration is, focus mainly in Spain and Morocco as main actors, and the relation with other countries like Libya; how the conditions of guardianship in the border city of Melilla and Morocco are and how migrants continue their migratory routes through Europe, in both legal as illegal ways.,

2. Research proposal
The central idea is that European cooperation with African countries like Morocco are not effective for migrants either minors. Moroccan minors are suffering violations of rights once they leave their country and get into Europe through Spain. In this way, Spain and the European Union would be violating the rights ratified in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In addition, the European Union would be focusing its economic resources on blocking borders and externalizing migration to third countries, as is the case with Morocco; despite the fact that the figures show that, the increase in investment in the security of countries does not solve irregular migration.

Delimitation of the study
This research is focus on the Spanish-Moroccan border as part of EU-African cooperative relation in the field of migration, limited to the migration of unaccompanied Moroccan children who leave Morocco and enter Europe through one of the southern border routes, the Spanish city of Melilla. The focus on the city of Melilla as the first point of the analysis is because it is the city with the most migrant children in recent years (Spanish General Directorate of Services for the family and Children, 2015).
It is a study of current European cooperation agreements facing the current situation of unaccompanied minors in Europe.

Based on the question of what Europe and African countries do for unaccompanied minors are, this research combines two forms of research:
On the one hand, it focuses on the analysis and theoretical study on the legal, political and social framework of Europe and strategic countries such as Morocco, Algeria, Libya and Spain. It is necessary to carry out an extensive phase of analysis of documentation, reading reports and obtaining data from institutional sources.
On the other hand, a qualitative methodology is used, with various techniques of data production to investigate the subjects of the investigation at different times or stages of their migratory routes: when they leave Morocco and enter for the first time in Europe through Melilla, and once they continue their route, either to Europe or back to Morocco. A methodology with fieldwork as participant observation with unaccompanied minors, with informal and semi-structured interviews with research-related professionals.
This methodology, together with the exhaustive documentation and the study of the sources already published, will be able to interpret the micro and macro processes to relate the political theory with the social situation.

Stage 1. October 2019-March 2020: Theoretical study
Contextualization and documentation of the theoretical framework of the research –European policies and agreements with African countries-, carrying out analysis of the readings and works already published, as well as attending meetings and conferences with experts to follow the debate.
Stage 2. March 2020-March 2021: Data production in Spain and Morocco
The subjects are Moroccan boys and girls who enter from Morocco to Melilla and how Spanish and Moroccan actors influence on their migratory situation. The observations will have the objective of knowing the minors in a street situation, to observe and to look for the minors that cross the border, and to analyse the protection made from the Government of Spain.
March 2021-December 2021: Data production
Continuing with the observation of the migratory route to different countries of Europe like Belgium, or back to countries of origin. Contact with other relevant African actors like Libya and Angelia.
At the same time, individual meetings and interviews will be held for social intervention professionals working with unaccompanied migrant minors; in addition to semiformal group interviews with minors.
Stage 3. January 2022-December 2022: Analysis and comparison of results
Compilation of the data produced and obtained, comparing of the political measures with the social situations encountered.

3. Literature review
International migration is a key element in the development of current globalization. In 2015, one out of every 30 people became international migrants. That is, 244 million people left their country of origin and began a voyage crossing one or more frontiers (International Organization for Migrations [IOM], 2018). This theory connects with the theory of the factors "push-pull", where external factors of the country of origin push to migrate as the situation of other countries attracts the person (León, 2005). And this is developed in the “law of migration” (Ravenstein, 1976).
Transnationalism is an important term to understand mobility and integration (Schiller and Blanc-Szanton, 1992): the context of the country of origin is added to the country of arrival, so the migrant reproduces their culture in the country in which it is located (Reyes, 2015).
In the Moroccan case, we can see an evolution of migration. Since the beginning of the 20th century until the 70´s, emigration was mainly for workers and was based on the bilateral agreements of Morocco with, initially France, and which was soon extended with Belgium, Holland and Germany. From the 70´s, migrants were mainly young people with academic training, and it is important the fact that clandestine migration began because of the continuous demand for labour and the increase of border control. As a result, many southern European governments were legally forced to legalize the residence of mainly Moroccan migrants. Moroccan residents in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany went from 400,000 in 1975 to almost one million in 1992 (De Haas, 2006). Finally, during the 90´s, after rigorous European visa policies, the Moroccans moved to the Scandinavian countries, along with others such as Libya, Saudi Arabia, Jordan; and with North America and Canada focused on schooling. It is at this stage in which trade is developed by these migrants and appears what is called "nomadic territories": constant movement of Moroccan migrants in an area that demands workers (Berriane and López, 2004).
Nowadays, three out of four Moroccans abroad are concentrated in Europe (Foundation Hassan II, 2013). Spain has a total of 715,690 Moroccan immigrants, and Belgium has 92,399. In this way, the Moroccan diaspora enters about 5, 000 million euros annually, which is equivalent to 10% of the Moroccan GDP. Plus, around 2.5 million Moroccans return to their homes during holidays like summer or Ed El Kebir.
It is estimated that there have been 36.1 million migrant children, 4.4 million of international students and 150.3 million migrant workers in 2017 (IOM, 2018).
The difference between them is the age: a child is consider as minor and not as a illegal foreigner. The terminology on the concept of child or minor appears in point 9 of General Comment Nº6 (2005) of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, where a “child” is defined as “any human being under 18 years of age”. In addition, in the legal field, cases of children in a foreign country who move independently, without the company of responsible relatives or adults, are treated as cases of unaccompanied foreign minors.
The conflict for the member countries is born between the protection of national borders and the application of the rights ratified in the Convention. The migration of these protection-dependent minors reflects the contradictory conflict of the European States: the protection of the child against the control of the immigrant. This is because the minor who arrives unaccompanied to a new territory causes disorder for the administration, thus generating the condition of unwanted not to fit in the established frameworks of immigration control. Liliana Suárez and Mercedes Jiménez emphasize that if the young post-industrialist is one who has benefited from the consolidation of the welfare state and therefore is a vulnerable individual who deserves protection, unaccompanied youth do not even have the protection of the administration or with the family, thus creating a new definition of the young postcolonial. In this way, the administration seeks the order of these minors through social work, homogenizing cases and procedures, and regulating migratory control (Gimeno, 2014).
As we can see, there are researches about male minors from different studies, but there is no continuation between the arrival and the evolution of the protection of the child, and not an exhaustive analyse of how Europe and African countries cooperate for unaccompanied minors. There are studies about punctual situations but not the complete circle: from the question why they leave their homes, to who they become once they are in integrated in an European country.
About girls, there is almost no information published, not from governmental sources either from studies or from NGOs. There are some researches going on and personal works, but again, not a full study.
Country: Belgium
University: Academic Network for Legal on Inmigration and Asylum in Europe

Research project leader

Sabela Gonzalez Garcia
Contact email:
Working language: English
University funding? No
Added to catalogue on: 15-05-2019