A Moroccan boy who swam to Spain’s North African enclave of Ceuta after Rabat relaxed his borders told a Spanish soldier that he would rather die than return home. “He did not want to return, he had no family in Morocco, he did not care if he died of a cold. He preferred to die … than to return to Morocco,” said Rachid Mohamed al-Sa Messaoui.
The boy attracted international media attention when he floated in a dark T-shirt with plastic bottles under his clothes and clung to his arms and cried when he reached the beach only to be led away by soldiers.
“I have never heard it from anyone so young,” the 25-year-old told Reuters, speaking on the beach.
Rashid Mohamed al-Messaoui, 25, a soldier stationed at Spain’s North African enclave of Ceuta, helps a Moroccan boy who used empty plastic bottles as a float to swim to Ceuta, on El Tarajal beach, near the fence between the Spanish-Moroccan border, after thousands migrants swam across the border in Ceuta, Spain, May 19, 2021. (Reuters Photo)
Soldiers followed the crying boy through the gate to the security zone between the two countries, along with other migrants. A spokesman for the army in Ceuta said he had no information about what happened to the boy.
Deportation of minors is illegal in Spain and hundreds have been treated in a makeshift reception center in Ceuta.
The boy was one of about 8,000 immigrants who swam or climbed over a border fence into the enclave this week after Rabat relaxed border controls. Spain has deployed troops to Ceuta to patrol the border with Morocco, calling the situation a crisis for Europe.
Rashid Mohamed al-Messaoui, 25, a soldier stationed in Spain’s North African enclave of Ceuta, helps a Moroccan boy who used empty plastic bottles as a float to swim to Ceuta, on El Tarajal beach, near the fence between the Spanish-Moroccan border, after thousands of migrants swam across the border in Ceuta, Spain, May 19, 2021. (Reuters Photo)
At the northern tip of Morocco opposite Gibraltar and with a population of 80,000, the beaches of the enclave are only a few hundred meters away.
Al-Messaoui, who speaks Moroccan Arabic, or Darija, said he tried to put his emotions aside to calm those arriving at the beach and act as translators for his Spanish army colleagues.
“You feel frustrated, desperate that you can not do more for the boy,” he said.
Asked what he would say to the parents of young Moroccans who were anxious to move to Ceuta, he said: “Not to let them go, to be with them and to be united as a family even if there are difficulties in their country … not to let them slip away alone, desperate, helpless. “
Spain sent more than half of the migrants who crossed the country back to Morocco.