MADRID (AP) – A prominent Spanish migrant activist on Monday accused Morocco and Spanish authorities of trying to silence him by banning him from returning to the North African country where he worked for two decades.
Helena Maleno, the founder of the Walking Borders group, who alerted rescuers when boats carrying African migrants plunged into the Mediterranean Sea, said she had been barred from entering Morocco on January 23 without permission.
He said his 14-year-old daughter had stayed in Tangir, a northern Moroccan city where the activist had moved since the early 2000s, and it took them more than a month to reunite in Spain.
The activist said that until now he had been waiting for the revelation of his January events to protect his family, giving time for the authorities to find a solution.
Maleno accused Rabat’s government of launching an administrative offense against him two years ago for involvement in human trafficking after a failed trial.
He added that members of the Spanish police, who had charged him almost a decade earlier, were still trying to put an end to his activities through the country’s Interior Ministry.
“They want to silence us. “They do not want us to explain the murky business that goes on at the border, which allows people to die,” Maleno told The Associated Press in Madrid.
In a brief written response, the Spanish Interior Ministry denied any connection to Maleno’s return to Spain.
Moroccan police spokesman Boubker Sabik said the Justice Ministry and the Tangar police were gathering more information about the activist’s case before they could release details to the media.
Morocco Human Rights Officer Mustafa Ramid denied any information about Maleno’s situation.
The activist said that the persecution did not stop after the Tangir court closed its case in 2019, after a two-year judicial investigation based on reports from the Spanish National Police, which accused Maleno of having links with human trafficking groups.
The Spanish police report was rejected in 2012 by prosecutors from the Spanish National Court.
The family underwent police raids, wiretaps, house searches and a thorough inspection, Maleno said. Despite numerous appeals to the Moroccan authorities, he was also denied a new residence permit after the extension was denied in 2018, when the judicial investigation against him was still open.
After that, the activist said that she comes and leaves the country every three months, until on January 23, Moroccan police officers were waiting for her at Tangir airport. He said that the airline crew forced him to stay on the plane that took him to Barcelona, where the Spanish police were waiting for him, and worked out the deportation order of Morocco.
Maleno said neither Morocco nor Spain had explained the reasons for the denial. He thanked the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs for facilitating his daughter’s visit to Spain.
“Part of the government has shown goodwill, but I believe there are still uncontrollable elements in the Interior Ministry who often work independently of the rest of the government,” Maleno told a news conference.
Other activists have cited the persecution of the 50-year-old activist as part of the legal and administrative barriers for migrants in a number of European countries.
Ireland-based Front Line Campaigners’ Maria San Martin, which provides legal and security assistance to Maleno, says Maleno’s case is “paradigmatic”.
“He is one of the most prominent activists on the Moroccan-Spanish border,” said San Martin. “The authorities realized that his work was legal, but they proved that they could not protect him.”
Thousands of migrants from Africa trying to reach Europe arrive every year in rotten boats off the Spanish coast, and hundreds are killed in a treacherous voyage.
More than 6,000 people arrived in Spain by sea in the first three months of this year, according to the latest figures from the Interior Ministry. By 2020, more than half of the nearly 42,000 arrivals to Spain were in the archipelago of the Atlantic Canary Islands.
Tariq al-Barakan reported from Rabat, Morocco.
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