24th April 2024
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Calls for investigation after death toll rises to 37 at Melilla border fence

Updated on Sunday 26 June at 12h.

The number of people who were killed after they tried to scale a border fence between Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Melilla on Friday [see original report below] had risen to 37 by Sunday, as human rights organisations in both Spain and Morocco called for an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the deaths.

Moroccan authorities said the individuals died as a result of a ‘stampede’ of migrants who tried to climb the iron fence that separates the city of Melilla and Morocco. In a statement, Morocco’s Interior Ministry said 76 civilians were injured along with 140 Moroccan security officers.

The ministry initially reported five deaths. Local authorities cited by Morocco’s official Television 2M updated the number to 18 on Saturday and then reported that the death toll had climbed to 23. The Moroccan Human Rights Association has since reported 37 dead on Sunday.

Two members of Morocco’s security forces and 33 migrants who were injured during the border breach were being treated at hospitals in the Moroccan cities of Nador and Oujda, according to reports.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Saturday condemned what he described as a ‘violent assault’ and an ‘attack on the territorial integrity’ of Spain. Spanish officials said 49 Guardia Civil officers sustained minor injuries.

‘If there is anyone responsible for everything that appears to have taken place at that border, it is the mafias that traffic in human beings,’ Sánchez said.

‘The Moroccan gendarmerie worked in concert with [Spanish] troops and security to push back this violent assault that we witnessed,’ he added.

His remarks came as the Moroccan Human Rights Association shared videos on social media that appeared to show dozens of migrants lying on the ground, many of them motionless and a few bleeding, as Moroccan security forces stood over them. [The short video with sensitive content can be seen at the end of this report, via the Tweet from AMDH Nador].

‘They were left there without help for hours, which increased the number of deaths,’ the human rights group said on Twitter. It called for a ‘comprehensive’ investigation.

In another of the association’s videos, a Moroccan security officer appeared to use a baton to strike a person lying on the ground.

In a statement released late Friday, Amnesty International expressed its ‘deep concern’ over the events at the border.

‘Although the migrants may have acted violently in their attempt to enter Melilla, when it comes to border control, not everything goes,’ said Esteban Beltrán, the director of Amnesty International Spain. ‘The human rights of migrants and refugees must be respected and situations like that seen cannot happen again.’

Five rights organisations in Morocco and APDHA, a human rights group based in Andalusia, also called for inquiries.

The International Organisation for Migration and UN refugee agency UNHCR also expressed ‘profound sadness and concern’ over what happened at the Morocco-Melilla border.

‘IOM and UNHCR urge all authorities to prioritise the safety of migrants and refugees, refrain from the excessive use of force and uphold their human rights,’ the organisations said.

In a statement published on Saturday, the Spanish Commission for Refugees, decried what it described as ‘the indiscriminate use of violence to manage migration and control borders’ and expressed concerns that the violence had prevented people who were eligible for international protection from reaching Spanish soil.

Original report below (from Friday 24 June):

About 2,000 migrants stormed a high fence that seals off Spain’s North African enclave of Melilla on Friday. A ‘large group’ managed to cross over from Morocco after a two-hour skirmish with border officers, Spanish authorities said. It is the first such incursion since Spain and Morocco mended diplomatic relations two months ago. 

Many who stormed the fence were stopped by both the Spanish Guardia Civil police and Moroccan forces on the other side of a border fence. Those who succeeded in crossing went to a local migrant centre, where authorities were evaluating their circumstances.

Melilla and Ceuta, a second Spanish enclave also on Africa’s northern coast, have over the past decade become popular crossing points for African migrants trying to get into Europe.

‘A large group of sub-Saharans … broke through the access gate of the Barrio Chino border checkpoint and entered Melilla by jumping over the roof of the checkpoint,’ the Spanish government’s representative authority there said in a statement. The precise number who had managed to cross was not given, but some media have reported it as 130.

The storming of the border began around 6.40am and the crossing took place at 8.40am, ‘despite an extensive operation by Moroccan forces’, it said.

The incursion was the first significant one into either enclave since mid-March, when Spain adopted a pro-Morocco stance over Western Sahara, a territory that Rabat considers its own but where an Algeria-backed independence movement is demanding the establishment of a sovereign state.

In the weeks of 2022 prior to that shift, migrant entries into the two enclaves had more than trebled compared with the same period of 2021.

In mid-2021, as many as 8,000 people swam into Ceuta or clambered over its fence over a couple of days, taking advantage of the apparent lifting of a security net on the Moroccan side of the border following a bilateral diplomatic spat.

Melilla migrants
This is a file photo taken in 2015 of migrants sitting atop a border fence separating Morocco from the north African Spanish enclave of Melilla. (Angela Rios / AFP)

ALSO READ: Pedro Sánchez visits Morocco to mark ‘new stage’ after Western Sahara reversal.

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