EU Interior Commissioner Cecilia Malmström has warned Spain that it cannot use force to prevent immigrants from crossing the border into its North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. The commissioner said that she would not hesitate to take action if she saw clear signs of European laws being broken, reports the Público online new site.
Malmström’s comments on Monday came days after a controversy flared up over a video in which a sub-Saharan migrant is shown being beaten by Civil Guard officers after he climbed the fence separating Morocco from Melilla.
"Border vigilance measures should be proportional and force can only be used when it is necessary and required in order for agents to continue to carry out their duties, to protect their own safety and their lives. Force must not be used as a deterrent against the unauthorised crossing of the border,” the Swedish commissioner said in answer to a question asked in the European Parliament by a Basque Country MEP representing the Bildu party, Josu Juaristi.
But on Tuesday the highest official in Melilla sought to justify the Civil Guard’s performance in recent times pointing out that the rate of assaults on the border fence are double that of last year.
The head of the Spanish government delegation in the territory, Abdelmalik El Barkani, said the number of massed attempts by desperate migrants to scale the seven-metre (23-foot), triple layer fence separating Melilla from Morocco had surged so far in 2014. "Last year there were 38 attempts overall. So far this year there have been 58, so we can say that at this rate the pressure on the border fence compared to last year has roughly doubled."
Spain has demanded more help from the European Union to deal with the flow of migrants who head to Melilla and Ceuta, another Spanish territory bordering Morocco. The two territories have Europe's only land borders with Africa.
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The United Nations High Commission for Refugees voiced alarm after a video filmed by a rights group on October 15 showed Spanish Civil Guard agents beating an immigrant and carrying him back to the Moroccan side. Spanish officials have defended the police, with El Barkani's office insisting they had acted legally. The government has described some of the attempts on the fence as "violent".
"The Civil Guard is working in a difficult situation," El Barkani said in comments broadcast on national radio on Tuesday. "When an immigrant acts aggressively, the guards obviously have to use proportional force, as the law allows."