Migration activist says Spain, Morocco trying to silence her

MADRID — A renowned Spanish activist for migrants’ rights says she has been barred from returning to Morocco, where she has lived and worked for two decades, in what she says is the latest attempt by Moroccan and Spanish authorities to silence her.

Helena Maleno, the founder of the Walking Borders group that has been alerting rescuers when boats carrying African migrants fall into distress in the Mediterranean Sea, on Monday revealed that she was denied entry to Morocco on Jan. 23 and that she had been forced to leave her 14-year-old daughter in Tangier, the northern Moroccan city where the activist relocated in the early 2000s.

Mother and daughter were able to reunite in Spain more than a month later.

The activist said she had waited until now to reveal the January events to protect her family and allow time for authorities to find a solution.

Maleno accused the government in Rabat of launching an administrative offensive against her following a failure of a judicial probe for alleged involvement in human trafficking two years ago.

She also said that members of Spain’s police apparatus that brought charges against her nearly a decade ago were still maneuvering in the country’s Interior Ministry to bring her activism down.

“They want us silenced. They don’t want us to explain the murky business that is ongoing at the border and that allows people to die,” Maleno told The Associated Press in Madrid. “The more the business, the more the risks that we suffer.”

In a brief written response to an AP inquiry, Spain’s Interior Ministry denied any involvement in Maleno’s return to Spain.

Boubker Sabik, a spokesman with the Moroccan police directorate, said that the Justice Ministry and police in Tangier are working together to gather more information about the activist’s case before they can reveal details to the media.

Mustapha Ramid, Minister of State in charge of Human Rights, denied any knowledge of Maleno’s situation.

Thousands of migrants from Africa trying to reach Europe arrive each year in flimsy boats on Spanish shores — and hundreds die attempting the treacherous journey.

Traffic across the routes through Spain has recently increased as other pathways into the richer continent have been shut.

Over 6,000 people arrived by sea in Spain in the first three months of this year, according to the latest Interior Ministry data. In 2020, more than half of nearly 42,000 arrivals were to the Canary Islands archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean.