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Home » Spain asked to explain deaths at Moroccan border crossing

Spain asked to explain deaths at Moroccan border crossing

by Aitor Piedrabuena
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Doubt cast on official version of events after deadly crush at border fence in which at least 23 died

The Spanish government is facing growing calls to explain how at least 23 people died during a mass storming of the border fence between Morocco and Spain’s north African enclave of Melilla almost five months ago.

MPs who visited the border on a fact-finding trip have appeared to corroborate reports – first aired in a BBC Africa Eye investigation broadcast last week – that dead bodies were dragged out of a Spanish-controlled area by Moroccan police.

Clashes erupted followed by a deadly crush on 24 June when about 2,000 migrants, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, tried to scale the fence.

Video footage shared by the Moroccan Association of Human Rights showed dozens of people packed into an area next to the border fence – some bleeding and many lying motionless – as Moroccan forces in riot gear watched over them in the aftermath of the incident.

Morocco and Spain say their border guards did not use excessive force to repel the incursion. But the BBC investigation and Spanish MPs have cast doubt on the official version of events.

“Given what we’ve seen, everything suggests that people obviously died in an area that was under the control of Spanish authorities,” said Enrique Santiago, an MP for the Unidas Podemos alliance, which governs Spain in coalition with the larger Socialist party.

“So if there were deaths in an area under the control of Spanish authorities, then Spanish authorities are the ones who need to be carrying out an investigation.”

Spain’s Guardia Civil police force has also acknowledged that its officers fired dozens of teargas canisters and rubber bullets in an attempt to drive back the migrants. According to human rights groups, the use of teargas may have been one of the triggers of the crush.

Jon Iñarritu, an MP from the pro-independence Basque party EH Bildu, said: “There’s no doubt that the main events took place in Spanish territory.” Iñarritu also tweeted that Guardia Civil officers had responded to the incursion by firing 86 teargas canisters, 28 smoke canisters, 65 rubber bullets, 270 warning shots and 41 doses of pepper spray.

Spain’s interior minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, has insisted “there were no deaths in Spanish territory”, adding that Guardia Civil officers acted “totally within the law and with the necessary proportionality required by events”.

He promised the government would be “absolutely transparent” and would show MPs photos and footage of the incursion taken from helicopters, drones, and border cameras. Grande-Marlaska said the images had already been handed over to public prosecutors and to the public ombudsman’s office.

Independent UN experts have blamed the deaths on “excessive and lethal force”, described the continuing lack of accountability so many months after the tragedy as “alarming”, and called into question the official death toll.

Both E Tendayi Achiume – the outgoing UN special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, xenophobia and related intolerance – and the refugee and migrant NGO Walking Borders have put the number of deaths at 37.

“At least 37 Africans were killed, and dozens more were injured because of the excessive and lethal use of force by Moroccan and Spanish law enforcement authorities,” Achiume and the UN working group of experts on people of African descent said in a joint statement at the end of October.

“The violence documented in videos of the scenes at Melilla’s gate tragically reveals the status quo of the European Union’s borders, namely racialised exclusion and deadly violence deployed to keep out people of African and Middle Eastern descent, and other non-white populations, irrespective of their rights under international refugee or international human rights law.”

Experts from the UN committee on migrant workers have also called on Spain and Morocco to carry out thorough investigations into what happened on 24 June, adding: “It is yet to be determined whether the victims died falling from the fence, in a stampede, or as a result of any actions taken by the border control officers.”

Eight months ago, Grande-Marlaska defended the behaviour of police who were filmed beating and pepper-spraying a young sub-Saharan African man as he climbed over the border fence in Melilla, again insisting the officers’ use of force was “proportionate”.

In June, Spain’s supreme court confirmed the shelving of an investigation into the deaths of 14 people who drowned in the sea off Spain’s other north African enclave of Ceuta in 2014 after Guardia Civil officers opened fire with rubber bullets and teargas.

Source: The Guardian

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