For my children to be able to visit Spain

Borja Brañanova

What is happening?

Sebastián and Olaya are playing with their father at the feet of one of the symbols of opulence in Dubai. They have just sung an Asturian folk song that they learned 7500 kilometres from Luarca and from walking around the city dressed in Real Madrid and the Spanish national team football shirts. Child size, of course.They play and sing in English with their mother, and in Spanish with their father. However, there’s something strange here: they can travel with their mother to South Africa, but not with their father to Spain… despite being Spanish.

This is the story of two children who the United Arab Emirates authorities have prevented from travelling to their country and for whom Spain takes no action in “respect for the judicial independence” of Dubai.

Borja Brañanova is a Mining engineer who, after 14 years in the Emirates, is now the head of Dubai airport lift department. He met a South African there years ago, got married and had two children who were given Spanish nationality.

He is now getting divorced and has come up against a legal system that allows the mother to travel to her country with the children, but has refused him three times. And nobody knows why.
“There is no reasonable explanation for their refusal. I have asked three times to go on holiday with them for a days, providing all the dates, and after many months I still do not know why I cannot travel with the kids to Spain to see their country and their relatives”.

This expert in business administration has spent a lot of 2017 and 2018 in the courts, the offices of notary publics, Emirate authorities and embassies to try to break the deadlock. When the local lawyers he contracted told him that the domestic procedural path had been exhausted, Brañanova sought help outside the country. He found  Pilar Bueno, a lawyer and vice secretary general of the Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de España (Association in Favour of Human Rights in Spain – APDHE).“We sensed a violation of rights. We did not become involved in the divorce, nor did we ask Spain to do so. What we want is for Spain to ask the Emirates why they will not let the children come. Spain is obliged to provide protection for its national migrants”.

Bueno sent a letter to the Spanish embassy in Abu Dabi, , the capital city of the Emirates, on 17 May. The test included the refusals “with no justification whatsoever” and listed a serious of violated rights: “To the family”, “to preserving their identity and nationality without interference”, “to not being separated from their father” and “to returning to the country of their nationality”. The lawyer asked the ambassador to demand the reasons for the refusals from two Emirates institutions. On 29 May, Bueno sent a copy of this same letter to Maitha Alshamsi, director of the Community Development Authority, a watchdog organisation for Human Rights.

The Embassy did not answer, but Alshamsi did. And quickly, on 2 June: “I understand Mr. Brañanova’s frustration, but we are unable to interfere in the jurisdiction of the judge until the matter has been reviewed by the court”. The Authority repeated the fact that it has advised Brañanova to take the complaint further if he believed that there had been “misconduct or a violation of any law” in the UAE.

On the 25th of that same month, the APDHE management took the matter further and explained the case to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In two letters, Bueno informed of the Embassy’s silence, narrating the case and insisting that it had nothing to do with the divorce and underlining the fact that neither Brañanova nor his wife are Emirates nationals and, therefore, in terms of the Asturian, “Spanish law and the current Spanish civil code apply”.

The Ministry replied. And quickly. On 2 July, the Undersecretary for Consular Affairs indicated that the Embassy is in “permanent” contact with Brañanova and that it had advised him to appoint a local lawyer, as the Emirates legal system is “very strict” in the area of “judicial independence”.

One paragraph further down, Foreign Affairs offered a reason why this matter was probably at a standstill: “It is impossible for our Embassy to become involved in judicial proceedings that are underway, not only in respect for judicial independence but also, and more particularly, because the involvement of our Embassy would be damaging to your client and might be seen as undue interference”.

The reply from the lawyer was also fast, and on 5 July she sent a handful of news to the Ministry: the Embassy never replied; Brañanova already had a local lawyer before it was suggested to him by Spanish diplomacy, and the lawyer did not want to become involved in the divorce or ask Spain to do so, but instead suggested a violation of the children’s rights. Bueno’s letter stated that the local lawyer had informed Brañanova that the Emir Office “only dealt with requests and/or complaints from embassies and/or consuls, and not from individuals”.

Today everything remains at the same point.  There has been no meeting. No more letters. No questions to Dubai. On the other side of the world, Borja Brañanova still wants to show Asturias to his children: “Our representatives should distinguish between interfering in justice and intervening to request justice. I ask for collaboration, not confrontation”.