MADRID– Amnesty International said on Tuesday that the failure of Morocco and Spain to properly investigate the deaths of more than 20 migrants on the border of the Spanish enclave city of Melilla in northwestern Africa, in June “smells of concealment and racism”.
The human rights organization said in a report presented in Madrid that there is “a growing mountain of evidence of multiple human rights violations, including the unlawful death and mistreatment of refugees and migrants”.
The deaths occurred when some 2,000 migrants stormed the Melilla border fence from the Moroccan side on June 24. At least 23 have died although rights groups say the number was higher. Spain denies its police units used inappropriate force and says there were no fatalities to the Spanish loot. Morocco remained silent on the issue.
“Authorities on both sides have failed to ensure effective and transparent investigations to establish the truth about what happened that day,” Amnesty said. “Families and expert organizations looking for the missing have been repeatedly hampered by the Moroccan authorities.”
According to Amnesty, 37 migrants were killed and 77 others are still missing.
Prior to Amnesty’s report, videos released as part of a joint investigation by the NGO Lighthouse, Spain’s El País and other media showed the horrific events of the assault.
Hundreds of men, some wielding sticks and other objects, scaled the Moroccan fence and were herded into a border crossing area. When they made it through the gate on the Spanish side, it seems a stampede led to many people being crushed.
Moroccan police fired tear gas and beat men with batons, even when some were lying on the ground. Spanish guards surrounded a group that managed to get past before apparently sending them away.
The clash ended with African men, obviously injured or even dead, piled on top of each other as Moroccan police in riot gear looked on. Many would have been refugees from Sudan.
Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska has argued that the Spanish police response was “appropriate” to deal with a group of around 1,700 migrants who used clubs, sticks, axes and saws to force their way violently.
“I don’t know of any country that would accept a violent attack on its border,” Grande-Marlaska said last month.
According to Amnesty’s report, the events of that day were predictable and the loss of life preventable. He says the Moroccan and Spanish authorities failed to provide prompt and adequate medical assistance to the injured.
The metal border barrier surrounds Melilla, a city of 85,000 people separated from the Spanish mainland by the Strait of Gibraltar.
Melilla and its sister enclave of Ceuta have become crossing points for African migrants willing to risk their lives to escape war and poverty.
Both Spanish prosecutors and the ombudsman’s office have opened investigations into the Melilla incident. The Council of Europe’s human rights watchdog has also expressed concern.