Helena Maleno

Migrants’ and refugees’ rights.
Spain
Caminando Fronteras.

An activist of Caminando Fronteras group, resident in Tangier (Morocco) who works for the defense of the rights of immigrants, especially in the border of Ceuta and Melilla. The main lines of work of the group are awareness through the denunciation of the violation of the rights of the sub-Saharan population in Morocco, education, and health.

Specifically, Helena Maleno has become the contact person for immigrants when they have any problems in Morocco, on the border, or even on the high seas aboard the boats.

She is a researcher specializing in migrations and human trafficking and has also worked as an independent consultant for Women’s Link Worldwide, Save the Children, and CEAR. She emphasizes her work as an adviser in the report 2012 “La trata de seres humanos en España: víctimas invisibles” of the Ombudsman.

Author of the blog “Pandoras Invisibles” of “Periodirmo Humano”, through which she denounces human rights violations that occur in migratory transitions with a gender perspective and a transnational dimension in order to build a more human discourse. She is also the author of the documentary “Frontera Sur” and co-writer of the documentary “En el camino”, produced by Save the Children.

In August 2014, Helena Maleno was verbally and sexually assaulted in Tangier following an incident in which armed Moroccan neighbors attacked a group of sub-Saharan immigrants, in the presence and passivity of the Moroccan police. On December 10, 2015, she received the Human Rights Prize “Nacho de la Mata” of the Spanish Advocacy.

In 2017, Helena was called to testify in court because they relate her to human trafficking networks for her calls to Maritime Rescue when there is a boat on the strait that needs to be saved. The campaign #DefendiendoAMaleno aims to support her against a trial that criminalizes her great work as a human rights defender:https://goo.gl/qiVQAZ

Interview with Helena Maleno

What is your role as a bridge between immigrants and their families in the countries of origin and between immigrants and the authorities?

I help to identify the dead ones, to search for the missing ones and I work to make sure that this information reaches the families in their countries of origin. Also to explain the situations of violence that have caused the loss of their relatives. I try to make immigrants understan institutional policies and empower them to gain access to their rights. On the other hand, I put pressure on the authorities so that, knowing the reality of immigrants, they improve institutional policies and states assume their responsibilities towards migrant citizens.

How is the situation of sub-Saharans in Morocco? And in Ceuta and Melilla? Which fundamental rights are mainly violated?

The situation of retrogression in human rights in the European Union is being justified and fueled by the economic crisis. The southern border, made up of countries with a weaker economy than the rest, has become the first areas where human rights have seriously deteriorated. The image of a war situation, avalanche, invasion that is drawn from the European media is clearly manifested in Ceuta and Melilla. Over the last year, we have witnessed serious violations of rights, including the right to life, in these two European enclaves located on African territory.

These situations have expanded to third countries as a result of the border control required by the European Union. At the same time, Morocco has taken a series of measures aimed at improving the rights situation of the migrant population in transit: the government has announced a reform of the law on foreigners and asylum and the creation of a law against human trafficking. A regularization of migrants has begun and, thanks to pressure from the United Nations, indiscriminate raids and collective deportations have ended.

Despite all this, the situation of the rights of migrants in migratory transit is deteriorating due to the control policies of the EU and the bilateral agreements between the Spanish state and Morocco. The rights to life, to dignity, to asylum, to education, to health, are diminished by our control policies.

What do you think of the European Union’s response to the high number of shipwrecks in the Mediterranean last April 2015?

The European Union does not have the capacity to control the plunder that the large multinationals have created in Africa, including Libya. The large number of refugees are the result of their international policies that cause terrible consequences for social justice. European politics aims to provide a military solution to the collateral effects of its policies abroad, linking, as always, the situation to a discourse of conflict on the Southern Border.

Of all the years you have spent working with immigrants at the border, what is the best memory or experience you keep?

There are many because I have met people with a great capacity for resilience from whom you learn to be a better citizen. In 2004 we managed to prove that asylum seekers had been deported from Ceuta and, although they tried to make them disappear in Algeria, the migrant communities managed to get them up to Tangier and from there they returned to enter Europe through a visa, as it had been an illegal action by the authorities. That night there was a big party in the forest near Ceuta to celebrate the triumph of having worked in a network and for the solidarity of the migrant communities.

In 2015, we managed to get the Moroccan government to accept the abortion of a trafficked girl under the age of 11, whose life was in danger if she continued with the pregnancy. The abortion had to be performed in a private clinic and all the medical staff did it for free, even though it was a very expensive clinic.

And so a long list of triumphs in the exercise of citizenship, for which I consider myself a privileged person to have been able to accompany and experience them.

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