SHARE
COPY LINK

MELILLA

‘We didn’t fire rubber bullets at migrants’

Officials in Spain on Friday denied security forces had fired rubber bullets at migrants trying to swim to Spanish soil, after 14 Africans drowned in the attempt.

'We didn't fire rubber bullets at migrants'
Spanish media cited migrants alleging that police fired into the sea where the Africans were swimming, as Moroccan and Spanish security forces tried to repel them from Ceuta. Photo: Cesar Manso/AFP

The 14, including one woman, drowned on Thursday while trying to reach the Spanish territory of Ceuta from a beach in neighbouring Morocco. Other migrants tried to storm through a land checkpoint.

Spanish media cited migrants alleging that police fired into the sea where the Africans were swimming, as Moroccan and Spanish security forces tried to repel them from Ceuta.

Spanish authorities said police in Ceuta used rubber bullets to ward off the migrants but that they fired them in the air and did not target anyone directly.

“We did not use anti-riot equipment when the immigrants were in the water,” said the head of the Spanish government's delegation in Ceuta, Francisco Antonio Gonzalez, speaking on the radio on Friday.

Spain's opposition Socialist Party called on Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz to appear in parliament to answer questions on the deaths of the nine migrants.

In Morocco the head of the Northern Human Rights Observatory, Mohamed Benaissa, told AFP on Thursday that several migrants were hurt as Spanish police tried to repel them. He said most of the migrants were from Cameroon.

The Spanish government delegation said late Thursday that “rubber bullets were fired in the air, over a six-metre fence, never against people”, by Spanish police to ward off the migrants trying to cross by land.

Morocco, under pressure from Spain, is trying to stem a stream of sub-Saharan African migrants, who head to its northern shores in a desperate quest to reach mainland Europe.

Ceuta and Spain's other north African enclave, Melilla, have the European Union's only land borders with Africa.

Hundreds of migrants headed out from the Moroccan town of Fnideq in a mass attempt to cross or circumvent the six-metre (20-foot) fences that mark the land border with Ceuta on Thursday, officials on both sides said.

Gonzalez said the migrants were “very violent” and threw rocks at the Moroccan and Spanish security forces.

A spokeswoman in Spain for the United Nations refugee watchdog UNHCR, Maria Jesus Vega, expressed “dismay and great sadness” at the deaths.

“It worries us that people who need international protection and are risking their lives to get to safe countries, are losing their lives trying to enter the countries of the European Union.”

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

IMMIGRATION

FOCUS: What will Spain’s Ceuta enclave do about its ‘lost boy’ migrants

Days after up to 10,000 people surged across the Moroccan border into Spain's Ceuta enclave, many hundreds are still here, mostly minors, posing a quandary for the tiny territory.

FOCUS: What will Spain's Ceuta enclave do about its 'lost boy' migrants
Moroccan migrants help an African who has got into trouble attempting to swim to Ceuta on Wednesday. Photo: Fadel Senna/ AFP

We can’t yet say how many people entered Ceuta — we estimate between 8,000 and 10,000, and it seems 6,600 have returned to Morocco,” Mabel Deu, one of the city’s deputy leaders, told reporters on Friday.

Most of the migrants swam, but some came in inflatable boats, with Spanish government officials saying 1,500 of them were under 18. That figure has not been confirmed by the city.

“We don’t know how many minors came in,” Deu said. By Friday, Ceuta had 438 children and teenagers in its care at two ocations and was preparing a third, she said, acknowledging there were still “a good few hundred people wandering around the city”.

Those at the centres are registered, fed and clothed and given a place to stay after being tested for Covid-19. But many others are sleeping rough in parks or doorways, penniless and hungry.

Some came alone, while others crossed the border with friends or older siblings. Most are boys, either teenagers or in their early 20s.

“They told us they came to visit or that they were coming to see a football match with Ronaldo,” Deu said, accusing the Moroccan authorities of “manipulative tricks” to encourage the huge wave of arrivals.

‘We can’t cope’

Earlier this week, Ceuta officials admitted they were completely overwhelmed, appealing for a show of solidarity from Spain’s 17 regions.

“We cannot cope, there are too many children,” Carlos Rontome, another of the city’s deputy leaders, told Spanish national radio. “We are the frontier, we’re the breakwater, but we have limited capacities. We’re a small city of 19 square kilometres (seven square miles)… so it’s very difficult to absorb all these people. The only solution is to distribute them among the other regions.”

This week, Spain’s regions agreed to take in 200 unaccompanied minors who were already in Ceuta to free up space for the new arrivals.

“The problem cannot fall on (Ceuta’s) shoulders alone… The whole country must tackle the problem while taking into account the best interests of the
minor,” said Social Justice Minister Ione Belarra.

Save the Children said the proposal could ensure the youngsters were better cared for. “We believe that this measure could serve to alleviate the immediate pressure on Ceuta’s protection system while offering better care to these children,” Carmela del Moral, the NGO’s head of child policies, told AFP.

READ ALSO:

  1. Seventy more migrants cross border fence into Spain’s Melilla enclave
  2. 6,000 migrants swim across to Spain’s Ceuta in record crossing
  3. What happens to the thousands of undocumented migrants after they arrive in Spain?

‘I dream of being a cleaner’

NGOs say they’ve been overwhelmed by the scale of need in Ceuta. “If we continue at this pace, it’s impossible: no NGO, nor the Spanish state nor any European state could cope with this amount of people,” said Abdesalam Mohammed Hussein, head of local NGO Alas Protectoras.

“We provide food and warm clothes, but we can’t reach everyone because there are just too many.”

An Arabic speaker, he says some youngsters said they went to the centres but found they “were full”, while others didn’t even know where they were.

Many say their parents have no idea where they are. “My mum must be very worried by now, because I was the only person earning so we could eat,” 16-year-old Omar Luriaghri told AFP.

But he can’t call her because she doesn’t have a phone. “Frankly my dream is to work here as a cleaner,” he said.

Hotline for lost children

For now, Ceuta is focusing on tracing the parents. On Thursday, it opened a hotline for worried families which was swamped with “more than 4,400 calls” in the first 24 hours.

“Our teams are working morning, noon and night to find the families and ensure the child’s immediate return, because that’s what the parents and the
children want,” Deu said. “Many have been crying and wanting to go home since the first day.”

For some on the streets, desperation is taking hold, with Spanish police on Friday having to revive a young Moroccan who tried to hang himself with a
metal cable along the promenade.

“Sending children back is not legal and must not be tolerated,” said Ricardo Ibarra, head of the Children’s Platform, which groups 67 child rights NGOs, raising concerns about possible pushbacks — informal cross-border expulsions without due process.

But an interior ministry spokesman insisted all returns were being carried out “through legally-established channels” and said they did not have a breakdown of returnees by age group.

Social rights lawyer Albert Pares Casanova said each minor’s case must be examined individually “to see whether it’s best to return them to their families or (for them to) stay in Spain”.

It is Spain’s government “that ultimately decides whether they have to return or can stay here,” he told AFP.

SHOW COMMENTS