WATCH: The promise of freedom and a better life is Europe is leading tens of thousands of migrants from Africa and the Middle East to risk everything to try to get there. The latest example is that of an 8-year-old boy found in a suitcase, being smuggled into Spain. Ross Lord reports.
Spanish border guards thought they might have uncovered drugs stashed inside a suitcase, but an X-ray revealed an 8-year-old migrant boy curled up inside the bag.
Members of Spain’s Guardia Civil (Civil Guard) on Thursday found the Ivory Coast-born boy, identified as “Adou,” at a border crossing between Morocco and the Spain’s North African enclave of Ceuta — one of two Spanish-governed territories (the other is Melilla) on the Mediterranean coast of Morocco.
Guards spotted a 19-year-old woman, from Morocco, trying to cross the border with a pink suitcase.
“She seemed to hesitate, and it looked as though she didn’t want to come through the border, BBC reported a police spokesperson telling the Spanish news agency Efe. “At first we thought that there could be drug packages, but gradually discovered that it was a human body.”
Police suspect the boy’s 42-year-old father — who lives in Spain’s Canary Islands, off Morocco’s west coast — paid the woman to act as a courier and smuggle the boy into Ceuta so they could be reunited.
“I just wanted to take him with me to the Canary Islands,” El País reported the man saying.
El País reported the father crossed the border into Ceuta an hour and a half after the boy was found inside the suitcase.
The Guardia Civil said Adou was in a “terrible state” when they found him and the situation “could have ended tragically.”
The father and the woman are now being held in police custody and are accused of “a crime against the rights of foreign citizens.”
Adou is now being looked after by child protection services, The Guardian reported.
Ceuta and Melilla are both cities that are surrounded by Morocco on three sides. Both Morocco and Spain claim the territories, but they’re governed from Madrid — making them the only territories in Africa under the European Union.
They’re seen as a gateway for migrants looking to get to Europe and cases of people being smuggled over the border in containers or cargo vehicles are not rare. Thousands of others attempt to get to Europe via the enclaves by scaling six-metre-high, barbed-wire fences or swimming from beach to beach on either side of the border.
“According to official statistics, over 4,300 people entered the two enclaves irregularly in 2013, compared with 2,804 in 2012,” Human Rights Watch reported last year, noting Spain erected the barbed-wire fences around Ceuta and Melilla in 2013.
The fences haven’t stopped the flow of migrants.
In an incident on March 18, 2014, approximately 500 made it over the fences and into Melilla — “the largest successful attempt in recent years,” Human Rights Watch reported.
The plight of Europe-bound migrants has become a crisis for Europe as thousands of people die or have to be rescued from the Mediterranean Sea, when shoddy, overcrowded boats run into trouble or are simply abandoned at sea.
The International Organization for Migration estimates that, as of Thursday, 1,829 migrants have died in the Mediterranean so far in 2015, compared to just 207 in the same period last year.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees said the sinking of a migrant boat off the coast of Libya last month was the deadliest such disaster on record.
More than 800 people — mostly from the Middle East, eastern and Sub-Saharan Africa — are believed to have drowned when a fishing boat hit a merchant vessel and capsized.
CLARIFICATION: This post was updated on Aug. 31 to clarify the boy’s name. An earlier version of this story identified the boy as “Abou”. The boy’s name was later determined to be “Adou.”