29th Feb 2024

Spain denies any responsibility in Melilla migrant deaths

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The Spanish government denies any responsibility over the deaths of some 23 people who attempted to cross from Morocco into its north African Melilla enclave last summer.

Spanish interior minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska told MEPs on Wednesday (22 March) that the over 1,700 who attempted to enter Melilla in June of last year did so through force and violence.

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"They were using a sticks and stones to attack the Moroccan and Spanish forces," he said.

But a subsequent investigation by the BBC said migrants use sticks to help them scale the three fences that separate Morocco from Melilla.

The investigation also found that lifeless bodies had been dragged by Moroccan police from areas that were Spanish controlled.

Some had been fired at by Spanish police with rubber bullets and gas while attempting to scale the fences, one migrant told the BBC.

Although the figure is likely higher, at least 23 were confirmed dead by the Moroccan forces.

Grande-Marlaska insisted that no deaths took place on Spanish soil and said the BBC had since "rectified its report".

He said Spain's public prosecutor drew the same conclusion after a nine-month investigation.

"This was a tragedy that should never have happened," he said, noting that 134 managed to cross and claim asylum.

But Amnesty International, in a 66-page report published last December, sheds doubt on Grande-Marlaska's version of events.

They said that the methods used by Moroccan and Spanish authorities at the "Barrio Chino" border contributed to the deaths of at least 37 people.

Others who were injured had been left unattended in the full glare of the sun for eight hours without any basic medical assistance.

"Spanish authorities did not assist in any way the injured people who were left on the ground in Spanish territory after the police operation ended," says the report. Another 77 people remain missing and are unaccounted for.

The NGO also says Moroccan security forces had violently raided informal camps near the enclave in the lead up to the attempted crossing.

Months later, the Spanish state granted Morocco another €30m to help Rabat stem irregular migration and human trafficking.

For its part, the European Commission is pouring large amounts of money into Morocco.

Earlier this month, EU commission Olivér Várhelyi, signed a €624m package with Rabat. Of that, some €152m is for migration.

The commission had also launched an anti-smuggling operational partnership with Morocco last July, shortly after 23 people died trying to enter Melilla.

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