2020-10-31 SPAIN

Fratelli Community of Melilla: a joint project of Marists and Lasallians to help immigrants

The Marist Brothers of the Province of Mediterránea and the Lasallian Brothers of the District of ARLEP have succeeded in setting up the common project “Comunidad Fratelli Melilla”, whose objective is to orientate, educate and help the immigrants and refugees who are in Melilla, a Spanish city located in North Africa, which in the last three years has seen an increase in its migratory flow.

The community is made up of four Lasallian Brothers (Jesús Bejarano Busto, Juan Antonio Esteban Milla, Eulalio Sánchez Huertos, Crescencio Terrazas Olalla) and one Marist Brother (José Luis Elías Becerra).

Brothers JosĂ© Luis ElĂ­as (Marist) and JesĂşs Bejarano (Lasallian)  spoke about the Fratelli Community in Melilla.

When and how was the initiative to form the Fratelli Melilla Community created?

The initiative came from the Provincial Councils of the De La Salle and Marist Brothers, during the year 2019, after the previous experience of an inter-congregational community in Bonanza. It was decided to start the new community in Melilla taking advantage of the infrastructure and the existing community of De La Salle Brothers, who have been running a school since 1912. Also for the last 12 years, an association has been operating in the school, the Alfa project, aimed at the literacy of Muslim women, a very vulnerable group in the city.

What does the community  project consist of?

The first year was one of coming to grips with the situation, working in the school and making contact with the reality of work with migrants and refugees in Melilla. The idea, despite the slow-down of the pandemic, is to initiate specific activities this year around three areas of work:

  1. Second chance school (social and labour insertion area): experience shows us that the possibilities of insertion of immigrants in society depend on personalised accompaniment and professional training. Therefore, the implementation of an E2O in the autonomous city of Melilla is proposed, which involves the following activities to improve the employability of the beneficiaries: individualized accompaniment, academic and professional guidance, development of personal skills, adult education, professional training actions and pre-work experiences.
  2. Emancipation Home (residential area): the migratory processes of young people who have been deported, the few alternatives offered by the city of Melilla, and the number of young people on the streets justify the setting up of an Emancipation Home. The initial proposal would be for six young people, on a temporary stay, and as a bridging resource to other similar ones in the peninsula, with the aim of accompanying them personally and in groups in the different dimensions: personal development, autonomous life, conviviality, administration, health, training, occupational and socio-cultural, among others.
  3. Healthy Leisure and Free Time (socio-educational area): the importance of educational accompaniment in leisure and free time which both congregations incorporate into their mission, determines the proposal to develop a Plan of Leisure and Free Time Activities. This would include weekly activities such as educational sessions, workshops, sports activities or cultural outings and the development of a Summer School for boys and girls between 11 and 16 years old, with priority given to those in Residential Centres for minors or Temporary Stay Centres for immigrants (CETI).
To whom does the community offer assistance?

Apart from the school activity, the community has been involved for years in the literacy of Muslim women (the Alfa Project). Now we are starting to work in support and literacy with young people who have crossed the border, unaccompanied minors, and our intention is also to work with these young people at the key moment of their emancipation, when they come of age and leave the assistance structures offered by the autonomous city for them.

What is the legal, social and health situation of the immigrants assisted by the community?

The women who use the Alfa Project are generally women who lack documentation and therefore are unable to access the literacy courses offered by the Autonomous City.

The young people we work with also do not have their documentation organised and it is difficult for minors to leave the protection service with their formalised documentation. These children have difficulty gaining access to the Peninsula and many of them either pass through illegally or remain stranded in Melilla waiting for their papers to be sorted out.

In the support of young people in the Temporary Centre for Immigrants (CETI) we often meet young refugees who have not yet obtained their asylum permit.

So far, how many people have been helped by the community?

In the Alfa Project we have been assisting about 100 women per course. The young people with whom we have worked in the summer camps and in the literacy courses are also about 100.

Can you describe a little bit the social context of this place?

Melilla is a territory marked by its geography, its history, its geopolitical value, its predisposition to commercial exchange and its mixture of races. It has about 12 square kilometres of surface and about 90,000 inhabitants. It is one of the Spanish Plazas in North Africa, where the Mediterranean forms its natural maritime border to the East, and has about 12 kilometres of land bordering with Morocco to the West, the border being delimited by the sadly famous fence, and equipped with four official border posts.

Melilla, like other points on Europe’s so-called Southern Border located on the Peninsula, has seen its irregular migratory flow increase over the past three years, mainly due to the extra difficulties that have arisen in  Central (Italy) and Eastern (Greece) Mediterranean.

During 2018, an estimated 6,000 people entered Melilla illegally, of whom 4,821 came by land and 918 by sea. Contrary to popular belief, most of the people who used the land route entered through the official border posts, using foreign or forged documentation and taking advantage of the similarity of ethnic features, as they were mostly Algerians, Tunisians and Syrians, and are therefore easily mistaken for the population that moves across the border daily for commercial purposes. While a minority takes part in the “jumping of the fence” or tries to enter hidden in vehicles, generally those of sub-Saharan origin (Mali, Guinea Conakri, Ivory Coast) or of any other ethnic origin. Entry by sea is done in poor quality boats or even by swimming.

Unaccompanied foreign minors (UFM) have increased in recent years. According to the Ministry of the Interior, 1090 minors have arrived in Melilla during 2018. Girls do not reach 20% and are cared for in the Divina Infantita and Gota de Leche Centres; boys go to the Centro de Menores Fuertes de la PurĂ­sima, where they live in difficult conditions as they have almost tripled their original capacity (in 2020 there were around 900 inmates in this centre).

During the pandemic, a group of almost 200 of these minors have been moved to other facilities (Fuerte de Rostrogordo, partly with wooden barracks) to alleviate the overcrowded situation a little.

In recent months the number of residents has been decreasing as those who have reached the age of 18 leave the care centres. At the same time there are fewer children in the centres because the border has been closed since March. These young people who leave the minors’ resource usually leave without documentation and remain in the  city without documentation and without any possibility of going to the Peninsula or even returning to their country of origin since the borders remain closed due to the pandemic.


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