Human rights groups have called for an investigation after at least 23 people died trying to scale a border fence between Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Melilla in northern Africa.
Authorities in Morocco and Spain said the people died as a result of a “tramp” with about 2,000 people trying to climb the iron fence on Friday, and some falling as they tried to do so.
The Moroccan Human Rights Association (AMDH) on Saturday shared videos of the aftermath of the mass crossing attempt, showing dozens of people lying at the border fence, some bleeding and many apparently lifeless as Moroccan security forces stood over them.
In one of the cliffs, a Moroccan security officer appeared to be using a relay to beat someone lying on the ground.
AMDH called for “comprehensive, prompt and serious” investigation into Friday’s events, saying many of the injured were “left there without help for hours, increasing the number of deaths”.
The group also gave a higher death toll than the figure provided by the Moroccan Interior Ministry, saying 29 people were killed, but the figure could not be immediately confirmed.
Five rights organizations in Morocco and APDHA, a human rights group based in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia, also supported the call for an inquiry. They urged authorities not to bury the dead until after formal investigations.
There was no immediate comment from Moroccan authorities on AMDH’s allegations, but an unnamed Moroccan official told Reuters news agency that security personnel had not used unnecessary force during Friday’s events.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, meanwhile, condemned the attempted mass crossing as a “violent attack” and an “attack on Spain’s territorial integrity”.
“If there is anyone who is responsible for everything that seems to have taken place at that border, it is the mafia that deals with people,” he said.
A Spanish police source told Reuters that the migrants who stormed the fence had used sticks, knives and acid against security forces and had changed tactics to try to cross a perceived weak spot en masse, rather than in separate attempts along the fence.
About 133 people crossed the border, while 176 Moroccan security officers and 49 Spanish border guards sustained injuries, authorities said.
Ousmane Ba, a Senegalese migrant on the Moroccan side who runs a group to help other migrants, said the violence followed days of rising tension in the area around Melilla.
Ba, who neither attended nor witnessed Friday’s incident, said migrants living nearby had clashed several times with Moroccan security forces while trying to cross the fence earlier in the week.
Many of them live harshly in the countryside nearby and were desperate, he said. “I have never seen migrants attack so violently. We apologize for the deaths near the fence, “he said.
Amnesty International issued a statement saying it was deeply concerned about the events at the border.
“While migrants may have acted violently in their attempts to enter Melilla when it comes to border controls, not everything goes,” said Esteban Beltran, director of Amnesty International Spain. “Human rights for migrants and refugees must be respected, and situations as seen cannot happen again.”
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also weighed in with a statement expressing “deep sadness and concern” over what happened at the border between Morocco and Melilla.
“The IOM and the UNHCR call on all authorities to prioritize the safety of migrants and refugees, refrain from excessive use of force and uphold their human rights,” the organizations said.
The Spanish Refugee Commission, CEAR, also rejected what it described as “arbitrary use of force to control migration and border control” and expressed concern that the violence had prevented people entitled to international protection from reaching Spanish soil. . The Catholic Church in the southern Spanish city of Malaga, meanwhile, said that “both Morocco and Spain have chosen to remove human dignity at our borders, insisting that the arrival of migrants be avoided at all costs and forgetting the lives that being torn apart along the way. ”.
Melilla and Ceuta, Spain’s second North African enclave, have the EU’s only borders on the African continent.
The mass crossing attempt on Friday was the first since Spain and Morocco straightened relations after a years-long dispute over Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony annexed by Morocco in 1976. The dispute had begun when Madrid allowed Brahim Ghali, leader of Western Sahara. pro-independence Polisario Front to be treated for COVID-19 at a Spanish hospital in April 2021.
Rabat wants Western Sahara to have autonomous status under Moroccan sovereignty, but the Polisario Front insists on a UN-monitored referendum on self-determination as agreed in a 1991 ceasefire agreement.
One month after Spain allowed Ghali to be treated in a Spanish hospital, about 10,000 migrants crossed the Moroccan border into Spain’s Ceuta enclave as border guards looked the other way, in what was widely perceived as a criminal act. Discount.