The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on Thursday that Spain did not violate the European Convention on Human Rights when it immediately deported two men from the Spanish enclave of Melilla to Morocco back in 2014.
The unanimous ruling, which reverses an earlier decision by the court, was denounced by Amnesty International.
In an initial ruling in October 2017, the Strasbourg court had stated that Spain had violated a European protocol on the prohibition of collective expulsion, as well as the migrants’ right to an effective remedy. The Spanish government at the time, however, led by Mariano Rajoy and the right-wing People’s Party (PP), appealed.
The original incident took place on 13 August 2014, when hundreds of migrants jumped the border fence separating Morocco from the Spanish enclave of Melilla. Spanish authorities had erected a triple-layer fence along the 13km border. About 100 migrants made it over the first fence, and about 70 reached the inner fence. A few landed on Spanish territory, where they were then met by Spanish Guardia Civil officers who immediately escorted them back to Moroccan soil – a process referred to as ‘express deportation’.
Two of the expelled migrants, one from Mali and the other from Ivory Coast, identified only as N.D. and N.T., had approached the court to defend their rights.
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However, this latest judgement stated that the fundamental rights of the two migrants were not violated as they had placed themselves in an ‘unlawful situation’ by not seeking refuge through the correct channels, meaning that Spain could not be expected to offer them any protection.
‘They did not use the existing legal procedures to gain lawful access to Spanish territory,’ the ruling declared.
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Amnesty International called the ECHR judgment a blow to refugee and migrant rights.
‘Today’s judgement is very disappointing. These two men were marched back to Morocco as soon as they entered Spain, with no chance to explain their circumstances, no chance to request asylum, and no chance to appeal their expulsion,’ said Anna Shea, a researcher on refugee and migrant rights at Amnesty International, in a statement.
She added: ‘That the court has today decided that Spain was within its rights to do this, because the men entered the country irregularly, is truly a blow for refugees and migrant rights. People must have access to asylum procedures and to appeal any decision, regardless of how they entered the country they wish to seek sanctuary in.’