28th January 2023
Melilla migrants
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Spain’s Ombudsman says country violated rights returning 500 migrants to Morocco

The Spanish authorities failed to uphold domestic and international law in returning to Morocco nearly 500 migrants following a mass border crossing in which at least 23 people died, the country’s ombudsman Angel Gabilondo said in an interim report published on Friday.

On 24 June, the Spanish authorities said up to 2,000 migrants stormed the high fence that seals off Spain’s North African enclave of Melilla and engaged in a two-hour skirmish with border officers.

While many succeeded in reaching the Spanish territory, Moroccan authorities said at least 23 people were killed in a crush after what they described as a stampede, and others died falling as they climbed. Local NGOs said the death toll could be as high as 37.

Moroccan authorities had said at the time that 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. Morocco’s Interior Ministry said 76 civilians were injured along with 140 Moroccan security officers.

In August, a court in Morocco sentenced 13 migrants, mostly from Sudan, to 30 months in prison over the mass attempt to scale the border fence.

However, Gabilondo said on Friday that Spanish police failed to process 470 migrants who sought to cross into the Spanish territory.

‘The institution concludes that 470 persons were turned back at the border without taking into account national and international legal provisions,’ he said in his review.

The ombudsman’s office said it has requested access to additional footage of the disaster, as its investigation was still on-going. Depending on the final outcome, the ombudsman can seek further action such as requesting a parliamentary enquiry or filing a complaint before Spain’s constitutional court.

In response to the report, Spain’s interior ministry said its border officials were guarding a European border from ‘violent assaults’.

‘All border rejections that took place on 24 June at the border perimeter between Melilla and Nador were carried out within the strictest legality,’ the ministry said.

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 enter Europe.

Border security is one of several points of contention in Spanish-Moroccan relations, which saw a relative thaw in 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 seeks to establish a sovereign state.

ALSO READ: 13 migrants sent to prison in Morocco for 30 months following Spain crossing attempt.

 

Melilla migrants
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)

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