Najat keeps two relics in her little black purse that always accompany her. The first is a golden photo frame with a photo of his younger brother Youssef. The other is a newspaper clipping taken on the day of his death, February 14, 2010. The two are members of a humble family from Sidi Ifni, a former Spanish colony on Morocco’s west coast. In October 2008, the young man left home without saying anything, and three days later he called. He crossed in a small boat to Lanzarote with some of his friends.
Najat remembers that day and still puts his head in his hands. “We thought he had gone to work in the fields with his grandparents,” he says. In one hand he holds an album full of photographs of his brother. On the other, she carries her son, little Youssef, named after her uncle.
When he arrived in the Canary Islands, the young Saharawi was 16 years old, so at the height of the kayuko crisis, he was transferred to an emergency resource for unaccompanied foreign minors in Tenerife. At Nivaria, located in La Esperanza, he barely spent 20 days. “He was on the second floor. A friend of his told me that another minor encouraged him to smoke and take drugs. He did not want to, and after this conversation he fell out of the window of the building. Najat still cries every time he remembers this.
He fell into a coma and spent a year at the University Hospital of the Canary Islands (HUC) in Tenerife. Najat was in Sidi Ifni when the Moroccan consulate contacted her to travel to Spain to be with her brother. She did not leave him for a single day, while her parents were still in Morocco, waiting for good news.
Twelve months after Youssef was admitted to the hospital, Najat went home again to take care of his parents. A few days after landing, a pitcher of cold water arrived. “They called me and said that my brother had died. I didn’t realize when I left him, he was still breathing. The death of the young Saharawi made headlines in several local newspapers. Maghreb juvenile who fell seriously in Nivaria dies in hospital.
“My father also died of despair the same year,” he says. Father and son were able to be buried together at the place of their origin. After his brother’s death, Najat returned to Spain to “administer justice”. There are many questions that swarm in the minds of women. Among them, if his brother fell or if he was pushed in an argument. During these 14 years, he had several lawyers, but there are still no answers. “I need someone to help me find out what happened to Youssef,” he insists.
“Hell” of Nivaria
A Human Right Watch report describes Nivaria as one of the largest emergency centers that opened in the Canary Islands in the summer of 2006, along with a resource installed in Arinaga, Gran Canaria. It was designed for 200 people.
Findings from this NGO’s visit to the La Esperanza resort warn of “serious abuse and mistreatment” in one of the building’s wings. “Children we spoke to suggest that during the last five months of 2006 there were massive and very serious beatings,” the organization said at the time. “The children described the top floor as a punishment cell, where they were beaten and locked up for up to several days,” HRW reported.
Due to the “hostile” atmosphere that surrounded the center, in September 2006, one hundred minors fled the site in protest. “Police immediately took them away,” Human Rights Watch said in a report. “We were so fed up that we all said we wanted to leave the centre. The director alerted the police and soon we were caught and taken back to the center. Then we were treated like criminals,” the minor told the NGO.
In 2010, the Santa Cruz de Tenerife provincial prosecutor’s office requested a hundred years in prison for two Nivaria directors for severe torture at the La Esperanza complex between 2002 and 2004, before it became an emergency resource. The prosecutor’s office also demanded compensation in the amount of 10,000 euros for each victim for harassment, beatings and humiliation.
Local media then repeated accusations against the directors of this center of discrimination against minor foreigners on the basis of their nationality. “They forced minors to undress and squat, performing degrading acts, using physical punishments in the form of beatings, shackling their hands behind their backs and tying handcuffs to a shelf,” the prosecutor’s office said in a letter.
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