After a mass attempt to scale the border barrier between Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Melilla resulted in the death of at least 37 African migrants, human rights activists in Spain and Morocco have demanded the opening of probes in both nations.
About 2,000 Africans, according to Spanish officials, made their way to the iron fence at dawn on Friday; more than 500 of them were able to enter a border control area after cutting a hole with shears.
Initial reports from Moroccan officials said that a “stampede” had claimed the lives of five persons. State TV in Morocco reported that the death toll had increased to 23 late on Saturday.
NGOs on the ground said that there may have been more fatalities. Helena Maleno Garzón’s organization, Walking Borders, is in daily communication with Africans trying to enter Spain from Morocco, stated, “We’ve confirmed 37 deaths in the Melilla catastrophe.”
Walking Borders called for an investigation into what is considered to be the worst day in recent memory along the portion of the EU’s only land border with Africa, joining more than a dozen other organizations, including Amnesty International Spain.
Videos posted online by the Moroccan Association of Human Rights show scores of African migrants crammed into a space near the border fence after the crossing, some of whom were bleeding and many of whom were lying motionless. Moroccan forces in riot gear looked to be watching over them.
The group wrote on Twitter, “They were left there for hours without help, which increased the number of deaths.” Another video released by the group showed a Moroccan security guard throwing one of the African male migrants on top of the bodies of others lying lifeless, before striking him with a baton.
The police and those trying to cross both threw stones at each other, but one young man who attempted to cross commented that the cops had the advantage of wearing protective gear. He told the Spanish newspaper, El Pas, that “the Moroccan agents were particularly brutal, more aggressive than past occasions, and many frightened.” It was this that started the stampede.”
He said that in the days prior, police had conducted many raids on the camps where migrants and refugees camped out in the open while they awaited a chance to enter Spain. Food and any cash the police could discover were seized, leaving the migrants feeling anxious and worn out as they struggled with increased precariousness.
He said that Moroccan forces had fired tear gas and thrown stones at people trying to cross. “Normally they throw it in the air, but this time it was aimed directly at people. And they were so weak that they fell at the slightest touch,” he said. “So many died because they were weak and hungry.”
Spain’s socialist prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, told reporters on Saturday that Moroccan forces and Spanish police had collaborated to “fend off” what he called a “violent assault” and “attack on the territorial integrity” of Spain.
The head of the African Union has demanded an immediate investigation after expressing “great horror” over the deaths of over two dozen Africans who attempted to scale a border fence separating Morocco from the Spanish colony of Melilla.
African Union Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat expressed his dismay at the “degrading treatment of African migrants” on Monday.
In response to the violent and degrading treatment of African migrants trying to enter Spain from Morocco, Mahamat tweeted, “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.”
Mahamat demanded that there be “an immediate investigation into the matter and a reminder to all nations of their duty under international law to treat all migrants with dignity and to prioritize their safety and human rights while refraining from the use of excessive force.”