Every Wednesday the foreigners locked up in the CIE of Barranco Seco (Gran Canaria) appreciate two different faces that break the monotony of the day as yesterday and the day as tomorrow. This change is brought by the chaplain Antonio Viera and the priest José Antonio Benítez, who come to this place on time to accompany and listen to the immigrants who, with a firm expulsion order, the state plans to deport in less than 60 days.
Viera, parish priest of the Church of La Vega de San José and Benítez, of Las Rehoyas, both in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, are part of the Pastoral Secretariat for Migration. Both with firm spirit and actions but gentle dealings, they have heard dozens of postponed dreams and stories of resistance in recent months. And those same people with a purpose drawn in their eyes have been seen leaving. Like the nine Senegalese migrants and one Gambian who were deported to Mauritania to later be transported by the authorities of that country to the border with Senegal. This was in November when the Ministry of the Interior decided to resume the deportation flights that were suspended after the state of alarm decreed in March. This first flight was the advance of those that have taken place in recent weeks to Morocco and that have transferred migrants from this country who arrived in the Canary Islands in recent months.
That first post-confinement flight, Viera remembers it with deep pain because just the day before she had visited the boys. But above all, sadness arises from the way in which these transfers are articulated. As detailed, the boys leave handcuffed, put them in a bus bound for the airport, are guarded during the flight and do not receive food or drink. Once on Mauritanian soil, he describes, according to the testimonies provided by the young people, “they were left in a room without food or drink. They even described to me that if they wanted to urinate they had to do it in a bottle.” “It is a situation of violation of the dignity of the person. Why do they have to be handcuffed if they are also people who have not committed any crime and are not going to do anything?”
Before that day arrives, Benítez and Viera spend an hour in the courtyard during their weekly visits with these young men who are candidates for expulsion. During this time they listen to them, remind them of their rights and that they can request a lawyer. They also talk to their relatives who are away to reassure them or intercede with the appropriate people on any matter that concerns them. “But fundamentally, it is not losing the importance of knowing how to be, of being with them, that they see us as people who are not going to demand anything of them or ask for anything in return,” Benítez emphasizes. In addition, before confinement, when the CIE was full, they tried to mitigate the communication difficulties that prevailed in the compound and for this they provided three wireless routers that allowed the young people to talk with their families. Foreign people have also received clothing and footwear and Spanish classes thanks to a group of volunteers from the Secretariat.
The deportation mechanism is one of the resources contemplated in the immigration policy dictated by the EU. However, in 2020 other situations denounced by both parish priests have also been experienced in the Canary Islands. The two recall the lack of legal assistance and translators at the Arguineguín pier or the errors when entering the date of birth or a surname with the consequent bureaucratic obstacles to request the documentation of the migrant person. “What we have experienced in these three months, until the complaints began, has been a violation, one after another, of fundamental human rights, recognized and ratified by the Government of Spain”, Benítez sentence.
The harshness of what they have seen and heard in recent months leaves its mark. The two chaplains agree on this. “When you see that, in addition, they are going to return (the migrant), which is also a trauma for the person to return to their country, having failed in their migratory project, that hurts,” Viera confesses. But it is precisely from this sensitivity to different realities that the involvement of both is born. Benítez links this activism with the message that Pope Francis has launched on how the Church should be built today: “It is important that the Church gradually leaves the sacristy. Pope Francis says he prefers a wounded church to be bourgeois,” he says . For this reason, he considers that this approach endows the Church with “that utopia of denouncing and announcing that good news where all men are equal, where there are no differences of race or opinion and that by the fact of being human, Nobody can take that dignity away from anyone “, clarifies Benítez.
Viera considers the approach essential to achieve that equality and avoid situations of discrimination. “I believe that there is a social pharisaism with migrants, on the one hand their rights are not recognized and they are rejected and, on the other, we use them” and he recalls that it was foreign people who picked up the fruit during the pandemic and vegetables and they are the ones that also cater to adults and children. That is why he emphasizes that the key is to know and listen to the person: “When you meet the person, they stop being a number or one that comes to take someone else’s job and you begin to be able to recognize them as a person with rights, how can we have you and me, “he highlights.