MADRID (AP) — An African woman has been reunited with her 4-year-old son in Spain after they reached the country in separate boats and were kept apart without contact for months while authorities established they were related.
A lawyer who took their case to the European Court of Human Rights said 33-year-old Bahoumou Totopa and her son, Abdramane Aziz Cisse, met on Monday in Melilla. The boy had been under the care of social services in the Spanish enclave in northern African.
The reunion came after the European court questioned the Spanish government last month for not allowing contact between the mother and the child while confirming their relationship.
Women's Link Worldwide Lawyer Teresa Fernandez said the reunion went smoothly even though Totopa, who is from Ivory Coast and speaks French, had difficulty communicating with her son. Abdramane is much more fluent now in Spanish than in French.
"She was very nervous at first, but she's extremely positive now," Fernandez said about Totopa, who declined to be interviewed so soon after the reunion with her son. "She says she wants to learn Spanish now as soon as possible."
Before Monday, Totopa last saw her child more than seven months ago, when he and her younger sister set off from Morocco's coast in a rubber dinghy to cross the Mediterranean Sea.
The boy's aunt nearly drowned during the March trip and was taken to a hospital in Melilla after Spanish authorities found their boat. Abdramane was sheltered in a center for migrant children in Melilla while authorities conducted genetic tests.
Totopa had followed them in another boat in April and ended up in peninsular Spain after a rescue operation on the Mediterranean. Unable to travel back across the strait to Melilla, she filed documents and DNA samples to prove she was that she was Abdramane's mother.
Authorities in Melilla allowed them to communicate via videoconference for the first time in late October, after the European court questioned the Spanish government's handling of the case, according to lawyer Fernandez.
The need for the European court to be involved "is a sign that in Spain, there is prevalent discrimination against those who are women, migrant, of African origin and in an irregular administrative situation," Fernandez said.
Social welfare authorities in Melilla didn't return calls on Tuesday or respond to emailed questions from The Associated Press about the case.
Tens of thousands of refugees and migrants make perilous journeys to seek better lives in Europe, but thousands drown each year in the attempt.
Women and their children are especially vulnerable, organizations such as Women's Link Worldwide say, because they often become victims of human trafficking networks that subject them to sexual exploitation or other forms of forced labor.
Making matters worse, migrants are often treated with mistrust when they reach Spanish territory, Fernandez said.
"Authorities are used to dealing with these situations with an emphasis on border and migration control and crime prosecution, rather than on safeguarding the rights of women and their children," she said.