Amnesty rights group slams Spain, Morocco on migrant deaths

Dec 12, 2022, 1:07 PM | Updated: Dec 13, 2022, 8:45 am
The director in Amnesty International in Spain, Esteban Beltran, centre, holds an Amnesty report on...

The director in Amnesty International in Spain, Esteban Beltran, centre, holds an Amnesty report on migrant deaths alongside Amna Guellali, Amnesty International deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, left, and Agnes Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International during an Amnesty international news conference on their investigation of the deaths at the Melilla border in June, Madrid, Spain, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022. Amnesty International said Tuesday that a failure by Morocco and Spain to properly investigate the deaths of more than 20 migrants at the border of Spanish enclave city of Melilla in northwest Africa in June “smacks of a cover-up and racism.” (AP Photo/Paul White)

(AP Photo/Paul White)

MADRID (AP) — Amnesty International says Morocco and Spain have failed to properly investigate the deaths of more than 20 migrants at the border of Spanish enclave city of Melilla in northwest Africa in June, saying that “smacks of a cover-up and racism.”

A report released Tuesday, almost six months after the deaths, describes the events as crimes under international law, and questions the inquiries run by both countries as stalled and inadequate.

“We are talking, not only of (mass) killings but also governments attempting to cover” the killings, said Amnesty International Secretary General Agnès Callamard.

The deaths occurred when some 2,000 migrants stormed the Melilla border fence from the Moroccan side on June 24. At least 23 were officially reported dead, though rights groups say the number was higher.

Spain has denied any loss of life on its territory. Amnesty International says all the events happened on European soil.

The Spanish government spokesperson, minister Isabel Rodríguez, rejected the accusations during a press conference Tuesday, saying the government has acted in full transparency. Rodriguez said the national police offered a proportionate response to a painful tragedy.

Spain’s interior minister, who is responsible for police and border control, has come under increasing political pressure during the last weeks as official investigations have pointed out the lack of transparency on how the tragedy was handled.

Prior to the Amnesty report, videos published in a joint investigation by NGO Lighthouse, Spain’s El País and other media organizations showed the gruesome events of the storming.

Hundreds of men, some wielding sticks and other items, climbed over the fence from Moroccan territory and were corralled into a border crossing area. When they managed to break through the gate to the Spanish side, it appears a stampede led to the crushing of many people.

Moroccan police launched tear gas and beat men with batons, even when some were prone on the ground. Spanish guards surrounded a group that managed to get through before apparently sending them back.

The clash ended with African men, clearly injured or even dead, piled on top of one another while Moroccan police in riot gear looked on. Many were reportedly refugees from Sudan.

Morocco has been mostly silent on the issue.

Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska maintained that the Spanish response by police was “appropriate” to handle a group of around 1,700 migrants who used clubs, sticks, axes and saws to violently force their way across.

“I know of no country that would accept a violent attack on its frontier,” Grande-Marlaska said last month.

Amnesty’s report says the events of that day were predictable and loss of life avoidable. It says both Moroccan and Spanish authorities failed to provide prompt and adequate medical assistance to the injured.

The human rights organization also points to 77 people whose whereabouts are unknown since June 24. It alleged that Moroccan authorities haven’t helped NGOs who tried find the missing people.

A metal border fence surrounds Melilla, a town of 85,000 separated from Spain’s mainland by the Strait of Gibraltar.

Melilla and its sister enclave of Ceuta have become crossing points for African migrants prepared to risk their lives to flee war and poverty.

Spain’s state prosecutors and Ombudsman’s office have both opened probes into the Melilla incident. Human rights watchdog Council of Europe has also voiced concern.

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Amnesty rights group slams Spain, Morocco on migrant deaths