(Brussels, June 9, 2008) - An investigation by the Spanish Ombudsman has revealed serious shortcomings in two Canary Islands emergency care centers housing up to 200 unaccompanied migrant children, Human Rights Watch said today.

The Spanish Ombudsman’s office launched an independent investigation in September 2007, triggered by the Human Rights Watch report “Unwelcome Responsibilities: Spain’s Failure to Protect the Rights of Unaccompanied Migrant Children in the Canary Islands.” This report documents serious human rights violations against several hundred unaccompanied migrant children housed in emergency care centers on the islands. The conclusions of the Ombudsman’s investigation have now been made public.

The Spanish Ombudsman’s office launched an independent investigation in September 2007, triggered by the Human Rights Watch report "Unwelcome Responsibilities: Spain’s Failure to Protect the Rights of Unaccompanied Migrant Children in the Canary Islands". This report documents serious human rights violations against several hundred unaccompanied migrant children housed in emergency care centers on the islands. The conclusions of the Ombudsman’s investigation have now been made public.

“This criticism from Spain's main human rights body underlines the need for the authorities in Madrid and the Canary Islands to improve care for migrant children,” said Simone Troller, children’s rights researcher for Human Rights Watch.

The Ombudsman has confirmed a series of violations of the children’s rights that were initially documented in the Human Rights Watch report:

  • That there are credible reports of past ill-treatment of children in La Esperanza emergency center by former staff who have since left that workplace.
  • Children are housed for one year and more in overcrowded, unsafe and substandard facilities that are intended only as temporary shelters.
  • Children are detained in police stations upon arrival, including in inadequate conditions.
  • Children do not receive documentation they are entitled to under Spanish law and as a result become undocumented migrants on their 18th birthday.

The conclusion by the Spanish Ombudsman reveals that, one year after the Human Rights Watch investigation, care of unaccompanied migrant children in the Canary Islands remains inadequate. Although some improvements have taken place during that time, including renovation works at La Esperanza, separate housing for children below 15, and school enrollment of children below age 16, the systemic shortcomings of these centers remain unchanged and should be rectified at once.

Since September 2007, there have been several media reports about serious incidents in these centers. These include the outbreak of a fire in Tegueste emergency center that resulted in the hospitalization of two children, a large-scale fight at La Esperanza center involving 200 children, a violent rebellion at La Esperanza over the quality of food, and the breakdown of the running water system at La Esperanza center for four days.

Background

Since 2006, over 1,000 unaccompanied migrant children, the majority of whom are boys, have arrived in the Canary Islands by boat from sub-Saharan Africa and Morocco. In its response to this unprecedented number of arrivals, Canary Islands authorities have opened five emergency care centers for these children. Conceived as a temporary solution these centers have become permanent as both the Canary Islands authorities and the central government in Madrid maintain that neither of them bear ultimate responsibility for the care and protection of these children.