The bus conductor, a moody Portuguese, gets off at the Irún station to check the entry of new passengers. In front of the door of the coach, which covers the Lisbon-Luxembourg route, almost a score of Malians crowd with tickets to Bayonne, Bordeaux or Paris downloaded to their mobile. It is already midnight and it sparkles.
“You passport!” You do not have it? Out of!
The man shouts them out one by one while they, who do not understand a word, but are not going to get on the bus, leave in silence.
“Nobody enters without a document, and then the French tell us to bring them back.” Let’s go!
The man who has just served as a gendarme enters the bus. The door closes and the engine starts. Moussa, a 20-year-old Malian, who had deposited his last hope of reaching France and reuniting with his father on that note to Bordeaux, is unable to stop the shaking of his hands.
The hostility of the Portuguese is a reflection of how France is tightening the surveillance of its borders to stop migratory flows after the rebound on the Canarian route. The terrorist alert and now the pandemic have served Paris to establish controls 24 hours a day against irregular immigration and unilaterally close up to 19 border crossings.
Since the Schengen area, that continent without internal borders, was created in 1985, this is perhaps the worst moment for an irregular migrant to cross from one country to another.
The gendarmes spend the day intercepting migrants on bridges, stations, buses and even on the train tracks in a space that is supposed to be free of movement. Last Tuesday several women with their babies were taken from a coach. They are sent back to Irún. From Hendaye, a few steps, or even from Bordeaux, more than 200 kilometers from the border.
In some cases, the procedure contemplated in an agreement between Paris and Madrid of 2002 is followed, a procedure that includes a lawyer and coordination with the Spanish police and that, between 2016 and 2019, has meant an average of some 2,000 annual readmissions by Spain , according to data obtained by the Transparency portal.
But in most of the returns, according to police sources and the testimony of the migrants, there is no single paper, no statistics or guarantee. They are loaded into a patrol car and left on Spanish soil.
A judgment of the Court of Justice of the EU ruled in March 2019 that the border controls implemented by Paris to combat the terrorist threat cannot be used to accelerate the return of immigrants to neighboring countries, but the practice has been maintained since 2015 and causes the discreet discomfort of the Spanish authorities.
The Unified Police Union in the Basque Country demands more means given the increase in returns (formal and informal), asks that France comply with the established procedures and warns of the emergence of mafias due to the difficulties of crossing to the other side.
The French blockade is felt in the streets and shelters of the border city of Irún, where more than 100 migrants arrived on Thursday of last week, most of them Malians. Young people, mothers with babies and single minors whom Spain has been treating as adults since they disembarked.
Arrived in the Canary Islands in recent months and transferred due to their vulnerability to other reception resources on the Peninsula, they intend to continue their route to French cities where family and friends await them. They are the so-called secondary movements, just what Paris wants to avoid.
It is a manageable number, but it meant receiving in one day a quarter of the people who arrived during the whole of last December or half of the arrivals in the whole of November. The drip, which remains,it stresses the reception system and exposes the harshness of trips that neither begin nor end in the boat.
The door of the shelter for migrants in transit run by the Red Cross in Irún is a déjà vu of stories that have marked the migration crisis in the Canary Islands. Malians who spent weeks trapped on the island of El Hierro are staying there , forced to chain quarantines due to the mismanagement of the reception areas. Also migrants determined to leave Spain after spending months blocked on the islands.
There is also, smoking a cigar, Houssam, a 17-year-old Moroccan who survived the Órzola (Lanzarote) shipwreck in November, the one in which eight people died despite the efforts of the neighbors who jumped into the sea with the lights of their mobiles.
Since he managed to leave Lanzarote with someone else’s passport, Houssam has slept on the streets of Cádiz, Algeciras, Madrid and Bilbao on his way north. Frustrated at not finding a way to cross the border, he has a plan to cross the Bidasoa River. “I will not stop. I almost died in a boat, I’m not afraid of a river, ”he says.
The obstacles and exhaustion after trying again and again are the engine of the business of the facilitators who pocket hundreds of euros to help migrants get the money sent by their families, buy bus tickets at higher prices or explore roads. clandestine. “If one road is closed, another always opens and the new one will always cost more money, more time and will be less safe.
We are busting them ”, denounces Ion Aranguren, a member of Irungo Harrera Sarea, the citizen reception network created with the migratory surge in 2018 to assist people in transit. The reception resources, designed for a three-day accommodation, have ended up making the norm more flexible. According to the volunteer network, now there are people who have tried to cross for up to ten days.
The daily count of the Basque Government in the three shelters in Irún reflects new arrivals, but also the absences of those who, in the end, make it. The journey of a group of five Malians, including three minors, is an example of how France presses but does not drown. Or how, regardless of the obstacles, going back is not an option.
On Wednesday, after only 24 hours in Irún, the five young people had already tried to cross the border four times: twice by bus and two on foot. On Thursday morning, Balan Diarra, 19, with a child’s face and a red backpack on his back, takes off his shoes from pain. Issa Camara, 15, confesses exhausted: “I can’t sleep, I just think about how to cross.
I’m stressed and I can’t take it anymore ”. They spent the day on Thursday watching the gendarmes and, at five in the morning on Friday, four of them tried again. This time on the train tracks. Camara and Diarra misled the agents. In Hendaye they took a bus to Bayonne and are already in Paris.
Two others were sent back, but that same night they ended up getting into someone’s car who charged them for passing. Separated from the group has remained Mamadou Soaré, a lanky 15-year-old boy orphaned of a mother who doesn’t have a euro left in his pocket. “I will have to wait, but I will try again. In Mali he was alone. I have nowhere to return ”.