22nd Oct 2016

EU wants investigation into Spanish border guard shootings

The European Commission wants answers after Spanish border guards fired rubber bullets at migrants swimming to safety off the coast of the Ceuta, a Spanish-enclave in north Africa.

At least 12 people are said to have drowned in the incident, which occurred earlier this month, but which was confirmed on Thursday (13 February) by Spanish minister interior Jorge Fernandez Diaz.

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  • Ceuta is one of two Spanish enclaves on the north African coast (Photo: pedrobea)

“The commission will be requesting explanations from the Spanish authorities on these events as they continue to unfold,” EU home affairs spokesperson Michele Cercone said in an email.

He pointed out that commission, as a guardian of the EU treaties, reserves the right to take appropriate steps where there is evidence that a member state has violated EU law.

The 12 who drowned are part of a larger group of some 200 migrants who attempted to enter Ceuta on 6 February from Moroccan territory.

Some tried to cross on land. Others attempted to swim around a man-made breakwater that separates Moroccan and Spanish waters, where the drowning took place.

Diaz said the rubber bullets were fired at a distance of 25 metres to deter them from entering Spanish territory.

He said the guards did not fire directly at the people in the water. He noted that the shootings were appropriate due to what he described as the aggressive behaviour of the migrants, Reuters reports.

Twenty three people are said to have made it to Ceuta’s El Tarajal beach, but they were immediately turned over to Moroccan authorities in an apparent contravention of EU laws against push-backs.

While admitting they made it to the beach, Diaz said the 23 did not enter Spanish territory because they never made it past the line of waiting border guards.

Under European asylum and migration law, anyone who steps foot on member states’ territory is eligible to have their asylum request properly examined before they are turned away.

Both Spanish and Moroccan border patrols monitor the area, as well as Spain’s second enclave, Melilla, further west. The two border patrol services have been working jointly since 2004.

The Spanish news agency RTVE reports the Guardia Civil intercepted 4,370 migrants trying to enter Spain this year alone.

Human Rights Watch, in a report out earlier this month on the treatment of sub-Saharan African migrants in Morocco, found that many attempt to make their way to Nador, a coastal city located 15 kilometers from Melilla. They then try to enter Melilla with the hope of getting to mainland Spain.

Over a dozen testimonies from migrants who managed to enter the enclave said the Spanish Guardia Civil used force against them.

Another eight said the Guardia Civil at the border kicked them and beat them with police batons when they crossed, the report adds.

The watchdog says EU and member state policy is instrumental in passing the buck on migration management to neighbouring countries.

“Like other countries just outside the EU’s external borders, such as Libya, Ukraine, and Turkey, Morocco has become part of the buffer zone for the EU,” Human Rights Watch noted.

The EU signed a so-called mobility partnership agreement with Morocco last summer, which focuses on legal migration, migration and development, and the fight against irregular migration.

Spain, for its part, signed a readmission agreement with Morocco in 1992, obliging Moroccans to accept returned migrants crossing into EU territory via Spain.

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