Police brutality? Calls for probe into migrant death in Spain

An activist group and the brother of an Algerian man who died in a Spanish jail used as a migrant centre called Tuesday for an independent probe into his apparent suicide after allegations of police brutality.

Police brutality? Calls for probe into migrant death in Spain
People gather for a demonstration outside Archidona jail which is currently used as a detention centre for migrants. Photo: AFP

Mohamed Boudarbala, 36, was found dead Friday in his cell in a new prison in the southern town of Archidona currently used as a so-called CIE — a centre where migrants are held pending asylum claims after they arrive in Spain.

Police said Tuesday an autopsy revealed he “hanged himself with a sheet”.

READ MORE: Algerian migrant held in jail in Spain found dead 

At a press conference in the southern city of Malaga organised by the Citizens' Platform Against the CIE of Archidona, his brother Ahmed Boudarbala denied Mohamed was suicidal.

“I was in contact with my brother every day, we called each other, he complained about the food, the cold, but he didn't complain about life,” he told reporters in Arabic comments translated into Spanish.

“He was sporty, young, very happy and very positive.

“He died in murky circumstances.”   

Ahmed alleged that his brother had been beaten by police — along with others — inside the centre hours before his death.    

Relatives of other people in the centre have also made claims of police brutality, according to the platform.

Asked whether there had been unrest before Boudarbala's death, a police spokesman said he did not know. 

Spain's interior ministry did not respond to emailed questions over claims of police brutality.    

Daniel Machuca, spokesman for the citizens' platform, said relatives of those inside had described living conditions as “terrible,” with no hot water for instance.

He added they claimed riot police had charged at those detained following protests over living conditions.

Police said Friday they had opened an investigation into Boudarbala's death.   

His brother Ahmed and the platform called for authorities to stop deporting migrants from the jail back to their homeland, as these could be potential witnesses in the probe.

Spanish authorities said last year they had to use the jail as a CIE due to lack of space in other centres, adding however the prison had better facilities, including new showers, heating, beds and sports areas.

According to the International Organization for Migration, migrant arrivals by sea to Spain tripled in 2017 on the previous year, with some 21,500 people arriving.

At least 223 people died or disappeared while trying to reach Spain by boat.



How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.