Investigation into migrant deaths in Spain’s North Africa enclave demanded

by Barbara R. Abercrombie
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Eighteen sub-Saharan Africans died after trying to climb the fence around Spain’s Melilla in North Africa.

Human rights groups in Spain and Morocco have called on both countries to investigate the deaths of at least 18 sub-Saharan Africans and the injuries of dozens of others while attempting to climb the border fence separating the territory of Melilla, a Spanish enclave in northern Africa. Africa, surrounds. †

Moroccan authorities said the deaths occurred on Friday when a “rush” of people attempted to climb the iron border fence that separates Melilla and Morocco. The Moroccan Interior Ministry said 76 people were injured, along with 140 Moroccan security agents.

Five human rights organizations in Morocco and APDHA, a human rights organization in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia, called for an investigation into the violence.

In a statement released Saturday, Spain’s Commission for Refugees, CEAR, condemned what it described as “the indiscriminate use of force to manage migration and control borders” and expressed concern that the violence had prevented people eligible for international travel from protection reached Spain. soil.

The Catholic Church in the southern Spanish city of Malaga also expressed its dismay at the events.

“Both Morocco and Spain have chosen to ban human dignity at our borders, insisting that the arrival of migrants should be avoided at all costs and forgetting the lives torn to pieces along the way,” a delegation said in a statement. of the Diocese that focuses on migration in Malaga and Melilla.

The Moroccan Human Rights Association (AMDH) demanded a “comprehensive, prompt and serious investigation to establish responsibilities and shortcomings”, and warned against burying the bodies of those who died until their deaths had been properly investigated.

AMDH shared videos on social media that appeared to show dozens of people on the ground, many of them motionless and a few bleeding, as Moroccan security forces stood over them. In another video from the association, a Moroccan security officer appears to be using a baton to hit a person lying on the ground.

“They were left there for hours without assistance, increasing the death toll,” the human rights organization said on Twitter.

The fence separating Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Melilla, Spain [Jose Colon/AP Photo]

In a statement released late Friday, Amnesty International expressed “deep concern” about events at the border.

“The human rights of migrants and refugees must be respected and such situations must not happen again,” said Esteban Beltrán, director of Amnesty International Spain.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez described the events in Melilla as an attack on Spain’s “territorial integrity”.

Sanchez told reporters in Madrid on Saturday that “if anyone is responsible for everything that happened at the border, it is the mafia that is trafficking human beings.”

A spokesman for the Spanish government’s office in Melilla said about 2,000 people had tried to cross the border fence but were stopped by the Spanish Civil Guard and Moroccan troops on either side of the border fence.

A total of 133 people crossed the border. Spanish officials on Friday said 49 vigilantes suffered minor injuries.

‘Magnet for migrants’

Melilla and Ceuta, Spain’s other North African enclave, have the European Union’s only land borders on the African continent, making them a magnet for migrants.

Friday’s mass crossing attempt was the first since Spain and Morocco restored relations after a year-long dispute over Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony annexed by Morocco in 1976.

The dispute had begun when Madrid allowed Brahim Ghali, leader of the Western Sahara’s Independence Front, to be treated for COVID-19 in a Spanish hospital in April 2021.

Rabat wants Western Sahara to gain autonomous status under Moroccan sovereignty, but the Polisario Front is pushing for a UN-controlled referendum on self-determination, as agreed in a 1991 ceasefire agreement.

A month after Spain allowed Ghali to be treated in a Spanish hospital, some 10,000 migrants crossed the Moroccan border into the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, while border guards looked the other way, in what was widely seen by Rabat as a punitive gesture.

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