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3rd Oct 2022

Death toll rising after thousands storm Spain's wall in Africa

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The death toll among those who attempted to scale the fence into the Spanish enclave of Melilla last week continues to mount.

With 29 dead, mostly sub-Saharan African, the figure, if confirmed, is among the worst-ever disasters for the Spanish enclave on the north Moroccan coast.

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  • Video footage shows arrested migrants on the Moroccan side of the Spanish enclave. Some appear lifeless (Photo: AMDH Nador)

Almost a dozen NGOs have since demanded an investigation into the tragedy , which followed a stampede of some 2,000 people that attempted to penetrate into the enclave last Friday (24 June).

The Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH) on Sunday (26 June) said that authorities had dug 21 fresh graves without any attempt to identify the victims.

"Without investigation, without autopsy, without identification, the authorities seek to hide the disaster," said AMDH, in a Tweet.

Video footage also tweeted by AMDH shows people packed tightly together on the ground in Morocco's Nador centre and being guarded by police in riot gear.

AMDH described it at the time as inhumane treatment that would likely lead to even more deaths. Some appeared lifeless.

"The deaths and the injured are a tragic symbol of the European policies to externalise the EU's border, with the complicity of a Southern country, Morocco," it subsequently wrote in an open letter.

An unnamed Moroccan official told Reuters news agency that police had not used excessive force during the stampede into Melilla.

But Solidarity Wheels, a rights group based in Melilla, also accused the border police of brutality.

At least 500 had managed to enter the border area after cutting open the fence. Of those, 130 entered Melilla.

Moroccan authorities say 23 died but AMDH says the true figure is 29.

Last week's stampede is part of wider desperation among people seeking entry into the EU, with some 13,000 having crossed the Mediterranean from Morocco to Spain last year.

It marks the first mass attempt to scale the fence since Spain and Morocco signed a deal to boost border cooperation.

The agreement came after Spain backed Morocco's authority over the Western Sahara, a territory seized by Rabat and contested by the Polisario independence movement.

Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez condemned the attempted mass crossing as a "violent assault" and an "attack on the territorial integrity" of Spain.

"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," he said.

But his left-wing coalition partner, Podemos, also called for "immediate and independent" investigation by the EU of the "extremely harsh images of violence" seen on video footage of Friday's events.

"If they [the migrants] were blond and European, there would be emergency meetings at the highest level," Pablo Echenique, Podemos' parliamentary spokesman said.

The Roman Catholic Church in the southern Spanish city of Malaga added in a statement: "Both Morocco and Spain have chosen to eliminate human dignity on our borders, maintaining that the arrival of migrants must be avoided at all costs".

EU money for Morocco

The EU is engaged with Morocco on migration issues.

It is the EU's second largest cooperation portfolio on migration with a total of some €360m payouts to date, including over €100m to support Morocco's interior ministry on migration.

"This includes strengthening of cooperation with Frontex and Europol, human rights training of its staff, reinforced deployments along the borders," notes an internal EU commission document from 2 December, 2021.

The same document says the money also covers the development of standard operating procedures to identify vulnerable populations and raise awareness raising of minors on the risks of irregular migration.

Last December, EU commissioners Vera Johansson and Olivér Várhelyi went to Rabat to boost cooperation against migrant smuggling and border management, followed by commission president Von der Leyen in early February.

"Morocco is the European Union's leading partner on the African continent in economic and trade matters," said Von der Leyen at the time.

The two sides have also been negotiating a readmission agreement since 2000.

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