The African Union Commission president, Moussa Faki Mahamat, has voiced his shock at the ‘violent and degrading’ treatment of African migrants trying to cross from Morocco into Spain after at least 23 people died, and called for an investigation into the incident.
Unconfirmed reports from human rights groups have put the figure for the number of dead at 37. Also read: Calls for investigation after death toll rises to 37 at Melilla border fence.
About 2,000 migrants stormed the heavily fortified border between the Moroccan region of Nador and the Spanish enclave of Melilla on Friday.
In addition to the migrants who lost their lives, 140 police officers were wounded in the ensuing violence, according to Moroccan authorities. It was the heaviest toll in years from such attempts to cross the frontier at Melilla.
‘I express my deep shock and concern at the violent and degrading treatment of African migrants attempting to cross an international border from Morocco into Spain,’ AU Commission chief Moussa Faki Mahamat said in a statement on Twitter late Sunday.
‘I call for an immediate investigation into the matter and remind all countries of their obligations under international law to treat all migrants with dignity and to prioritise their safety and human rights, while refraining from the use of excessive force.’
Kenya’s ambassador to the United Nations, Martin Kimani, said a UN Security Council meeting would be held behind closed doors to discuss the violence African migrants face in Melilla.
Kenya, Gabon and Ghana — the African non-permanent members of the Security Council — called for the meeting, he added.
‘Migrants are migrants: whether from Africa or Europe, they do not deserve to be brutalised in this way,’ Kimani wrote on Twitter.
Speaking at a regular press briefing, UN chief Antonio Guterres’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric said: ‘We very much deplore this tragic incident and the loss of life.’
On Saturday, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez had condemned what he described as a ‘violent assault’ and an ‘attack on the territorial integrity’ of Spain. Spanish officials said 49 Guardia Civil officers also 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.
On Monday Spain once again thanked Morocco for its ‘collaboration’ in the defence of Spanish borders and once again blamed ‘international mafias that traffic human beings’ for the incident.
But calls for a probe have increased, with around 50 migrant rights groups calling the Melilla deaths ‘the tragic symbol of European policies to externalise the European Union’s borders’.
The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and UN Migration said: ‘Together we express profound sadness at the loss of life and injuries during attempted crossings of the fence between Morocco and Spain. We urge all authorities to prioritise the safety of migrants and refugees, and uphold their human rights.’
Moroccan justice has said if will prosecute 65 migrants, mostly Sudanese, who took part in the deadly attempt to force their way into the Spanish enclave, a defence lawyer in Rabat said Monday.
The lawyer said the majority of the defendants were from Darfur, in western Sudan, which is in the grips of a food crisis and has seen recent violence that has left more than 125 people dead and 50,000 displaced. The others charged are Chadian, Malian and Yemeni.
The migrant rush in Melilla came after Madrid and Rabat normalised their diplomatic relations following an almost year-long crisis centred on the disputed Western Sahara territory.
For Spain, the main objective of the diplomatic thaw was to ensure Morocco’s cooperation in controlling illegal immigration.
Spain’s enclaves in Morocco, Melilla and Ceuta, are the only land borders the European Union shares with Africa.
1/2: I express my deep shock and concern at the violent and degrading treatment of African migrants attempting to cross an international border from #Morocco into #Spain, with the ensuing violence leading to the deaths of at least 23 people and injuries to many more.— Moussa Faki Mahamat (@AUC_MoussaFaki) June 26, 2022