We open this second series of builders of the future, with the Saharawi lawyer and activist, Loueila Mint, protagonist of the documentary Aquí estamos by Javier Ríos, in which the plight of migrants arriving in the Canary Islands from Africa is recounted.

Aquí estamosis being released these days in different cities in Spain.

You can watch the video interview and also read this article in which we have rescued some fragments of the interview.

We spoke with Louelila Mint El Mamy, Sahrawi lawyer and resident in the Canary Islands. Lala, for her friends, works defending migrants arriving from Africa to the Canary Islands by sea, risking her life when they are denied a visa.

Her twitter profile reads: “Saharawi lawyer, with my heart in the Canary Islands. I believe in kindness and tenderness as political positions”.

“That phrase is by Roy Galán, a writer I adore. I feel very identified with what he says. And he says that there is nothing more revolutionary than treating others well. This is my philosophy”, she confessed.

Lala was born and spent her early years in a refugee camp in Western Sahara. “Until you are eight years old, you are not aware of where you are, how you are…”, she says. “What matters is to play, to be happy, to be with your family. And I was able to play with my cousins, my siblings and grow up in an environment that I think was healthy. Afterwards, for adults, the reality is totally different. You are in one of the most inhospitable areas in the world, in the middle of a desert where there is nothing around, in the south of Algeria, in Tindouf; you are living on humanitarian aid, you have been kicked out of your country thinking it was something temporary, but in the end, you have been there for more than 45 years…”.

“All this is what makes and pushes people to migrate. For me, migrating is a right and as such I proclaim it and demand it”.

“As a migrant who has been touched by this reality because she has been expelled from her country, I cannot separate what I am as a migrant, refugee, woman and African from what I am going to say. If you are looking for me to be objective and impartial, I cannot be, because obviously I have experienced what it is like to have your country divided up, to have your family torn apart and divided, to have people living under occupation…”.

“Western Sahara was a Spanish colony until 1975. Spain abandoned it, illegally signed tripartite agreements and, in violation of international law, ceded a territory that was not theirs to Mauritania and Morocco. Today, Morocco tramples on our identity, our nationality and our rights. If Spain had not entered, if it had not taken everything it is taking in trade agreements with Morocco, if it had not sold arms to Morocco, if it had not signed agreements of all kinds – fishing, trade, plundering of natural resources – then I would not have left my village. If my village hadn’t been occupied, I wouldn’t have left either”.

I was probably one of the refugees, one of the privileged migrants because I left by plane, because I work in what I want, because I was able to study, I was able to train, I have my family here, I am healthy, my worries are first world, I have privileges and a daily social welfare where I am aware that these same privileges are maintained because there are other people who do not [have them] and who are the same people I assist in police stations, courts and so on. And this puts me in a position of responsibility, which I always say that one can assume it or one can pretend it doesn’t exist and not see it. All of this has led me to become an activist or at least to fight within social movements as far as possible to raise awareness and to raise awareness in my environment.

The numbers of “illegal” immigration

Before detailing the situation in the Canary Islands, Lala explains something that many “overlooks”: “migrants, and specifically African migrants, are not being able to leave their countries of origin because they are not given visas. A visa for someone who has family in Spain, who has economic means, is unfeasible, it is impossible. That is to say: leaving in a dignified, legal and safe way, in a plane, with a ticket and in the same conditions as the rest of us, is not possible and this situation forces them to have to look for a mechanism that is the worst of all, which is to risk their lives, to get into an inflatable boat, a cayuco or a boat like a patera without knowing where they are going and what their destination is.

According to data from the National Institute of Statistics and the report on the southern border by the Association for Human Rights, last year 41,000 people arrived illegally, which represents 4% of immigration. This means that the focus is always placed – and this is a problem we have with the media, the narrative that is used, the discourse of the rise of xenophobia, everything we are seeing – on 4% of immigration in its totality… In the end immigration – precisely because it is a right and it is something natural and it is something innate in people – cannot be stopped, it cannot be contained and they look for all the mechanisms to do it and in the end with the Canary Islands route within all the [irregular immigration] routes that exist, it represents at least half last year. There were 23,000 people who entered.

The Canary Islands route

It is a route that arose as an alternative to the repression and militarisation of the Mediterranean areas: northern Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia… and because the Canary Islands are close to Africa.

However, it is not a destination for migrants, but a springboard to Europe. However, until April, it has been experienced that they arrived on the islands and found themselves trapped, deprived of the possibility of leaving, even though they had a valid passport, family… all their rights were violated as they were held for up to 60 days without having committed any crime, only for an administrative offence of not arriving with a visa. Something similar, in terms of seriousness, to not using the mask as an anti-Covid measure.

The people save the people

On the other hand, despite the fact that the first patera arrived in the Canary Islands 26 years ago, there are not enough resources for the reception by the institutions, “the reception is not being such… and we do not want a repetition of patches that violate fundamental rights and human rights: deprivation of liberty, violation of dignity, invisibilisation of the people who arrive, dehumanisation…”. Faced with the lack of institutional response and the overflow of NGOs, and faced with a very sensitive situation in 2020, it was the people themselves who provided the response, with legal support, housing, accompaniment… “I believe that, in a democratic state under the rule of law, the people saving the people is wonderful because in the end it is a bit like how the system works, but it should be the obligation of the public administrations… Luckily, the Canary Islands is no longer a prison and people can continue their transit”.

“They are here, because we are there… if Spain had not colonised me, I would not have come”.

One of the popular responses was the creation of the collective “Aquí estamos” (Here we are), in La Laguna (Tenerife), which gives its name to the title of Javier Ríos’ documentary and which stars Lala, among others.

Lala recognises that it is often easier to reach people through culture, and that Javier Ríos, its director, has been very generous in using his public position to draw attention to the problem, showing some aspects: that migrating is not a crime; that the people who arrive cannot be made invisible and criminalised just because they have committed an administrative offence; that behind every boat there are human beings, with a mother, a brother… and he highlights the clear message of another of the film’s protagonists, the professor at the University of La Laguna, Víctor Martín Martín: “They are here, because we are there. ” “And that is the reality,” concludes Loueila, “companies, plundering, development cooperation, colonisation in the 21st century, the extermination of all kinds of possibilities from the African and also the Latin American continent… A bit like “if Spain hadn’t colonised me, I wouldn’t have come”.