Melilla: at least 23 migrants perish in unprecedented violence

Melilla: at least 23 migrants perish in unprecedented violence

According to Moroccan local authorities, 23 irregular migrants died during a massive entry attempt on Friday morning in the Spanish enclave. The Spanish Prime Minister accuses “mafias”, NGOs are calling for a “thorough investigation” into the circumstances of these tragedies.

Unprecedented drama at Melilla. At least 23 migrants died, according to local Moroccan authorities, following the attempted mass entry of African migrants on Friday June 24 into the Spanish enclave.

These people were killed “in jostling and falling from the iron fence” during “an assault marked by the use of very violent methods on the part of migrants”, said local Moroccan authorities.

Dozens of people were also injured, as revealed by amateur images filmed near this border, on the Moroccan side in particular. Piling up of inert bodies lying on the ground, faces of migrants in pain, truncheons distributed by the police on men already on the ground… Unbearable, these videos testify to the violent police repression against exiles, following the latter’s assault on the fence separating Morocco from Melilla. A violence described as unprecedented.

The human toll is – by far – the deadliest ever recorded during the many attempts by sub-Saharan migrants to enter Melilla and the other Spanish territory of Ceuta, the EU’s only borders with the African continent. One hundred and forty police officers were also injured. “Eighteen migrants and a member of the police remain under medical supervision,” a source from the authorities of the province of Nador told AFP, raising fears of an increase in the death toll.

“It was war”

Close to 2,000 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa tried to enter by force Friday morning in this autonomous Spanish city of Melilla. According to the Spanish press, the exiles were equipped with stones and hammers. The police responded to this assault with force, using riot gear and tear gas in the direction of the group.

“The police were knocking people off the fences, not caring about the injuries or broken bones the falls caused,” Nader, a 30-year-old Sudanese who was able to cross into Melilla on Friday, told InfoMigrants. “And then they would beat them. They would beat one migrant until he didn’t move, then they would move on to another.”

In his race, Nader suffered a broken hand. “What happened is beyond imagination, he continues. The Moroccan security forces are inhuman. I saw them chasing the migrants behind me. I think they wanted to kill people, otherwise how to explain the fact that they hit people on the head with big rocks?

“It was war,” sums up, for his part, a 20-year-old Sudanese in a detention center in Melilla, interviewed by AFP. “We had stones to fight with the Moroccan soldiers who beat us with sticks.”

Another migrant, detained in the same centre, recounted having climbed the chain-link fence that separates the Moroccan town of Nador from the Spanish enclave before a security agent beat his hands: “I fell unconscious on the Spanish side where I was beaten up by the police.”

Mount Gourougou is located next to the Spanish enclave of Melilla.  Credit: Google maps
Mount Gourougou is located next to the Spanish enclave of Melilla. Credit: Google maps

A total of 130 migrants managed to enter Melilla on Friday, one of whom remained hospitalized, according to sources from the Spanish prefecture.

The majority of new migrants flooding into Morocco come from Sudan, particularly Darfur, where a new outbreak of violence recently left hundreds dead and 50,000 displaced. Many pass through Libya and Algeria, despite an officially closed border with Morocco, to arrive in the Cherifian kingdom.

“An assault organized by the mafias”

The Spanish Socialist Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, for his part described this tragedy as a “violent and organized (…) assault by mafias who traffic in human beings, against a city which is a territory Spanish”.

“Therefore, it was an attack on the territorial integrity of our country,” he added during a press conference in Madrid.

>> To (re)read: Madrid wants to renew its anti-migrant surveillance equipment in Melilla

In Morocco, voices were raised on Saturday to demand a “thorough” investigation. “We insist on the opening of an in-depth investigation to elucidate all the circumstances of this tragedy”, pleaded on Saturday evening Omar Naji, in charge of the migrant file within the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH). in Nador, a city bordering Melilla (northern Morocco).

According to the latter, the violence of the assault marks a turning point. “This is the first time that we have noted such violence on the part of migrants vis-à-vis the police”, he underlines, reporting, for his part, 27 deaths among the migrants from sub-Saharan Africa.

“Pressure from the authorities has generated this unprecedented violence”

Near Melilla, hundreds of migrants wait, sometimes for months, in the middle of nowhere, to be able to cross into Spain. They survive in the forests of Mount Gourougou, in makeshift shelters made of sheet metal, tarpaulins and wooden planks. Since the diplomatic quarrel between Madrid and Rabat has dissipated, migrants say they are victims of renewed violence, indicating that they are “hunted” by the authorities wherever they are.

>> To (re)read: In forests near Melilla, violent clashes between police and migrants, “rejected from everywhere”

“The Moroccan authorities treated the migrants very harshly, continued Omar Naji. They besieged their camps. There is no doubt that this pressure generated the unprecedented violence that we witnessed.”

NGOs helping migrants have joined the AMDH in demanding a “transparent and serious” investigation. A major Moroccan trade union which also defends the rights of migrant workers, the Democratic Labor Organization (ODT), urged the government “to open an investigation into this tragic tragedy and to do what is necessary in favor of the victims on both sides”, illegals and police.

But according to the AMDH, which tweeted photos, graves have already been dug in the cemetery of Sidi Salem, in Nador, suggesting that these would be places where the remains of dead migrants could be buried. “Without an investigation, without an autopsy, without identification, the authorities are trying to hide the disaster,” accused the AMDH.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reacted jointly to express “their deepest concerns” and recall the need “in all circumstances to prioritize the safety of migrants and refugees” and “the importance of finding durable solutions for people on the move”.

On Sunday, two days after the clashes, the situation was still just as tense on this border. The Moroccan police announced that they had foiled a plan in the morning to storm the metal fence between the province of Tetouan (northern Morocco) and the enclave of Ceuta. Fifty-nine candidates for illegal immigration were arrested, according to the General Directorate of National Security.

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