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MIGRANT CRISIS

Spanish prosecutor opens probe into Melilla migrant deaths

Spanish public prosecutors said Tuesday they had opened an investigation into the deaths of at least 23 migrants during a mass attempt to cross from Morocco into Spain’s Melilla enclave.

MOROCCO-SPAIN-EUROPE-MIGRANTS
A Sudanese migrant with eye injury is pictured in the temporary centre for immigrants and asylum seekers in the Spanish enclave of Melilla, near the Moroccan city of Nador, on June 25, 2022. At least 23 African migrants died in the latest drama on the doors of the European Union, when around 2,000 mostly sub-Saharan African migrants approached the border with Spain's North African Melilla enclave, at dawn on June 24. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

The announcement came a few hours before the United Nations denounced what it called “excessive force” by authorities on the border between Morocco and Spain and demanded an investigation into the migrants’ deaths.

The tragedy happened at dawn on Friday when around 2,000 migrants, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, tried to break through the fence from Morocco into the tiny Spanish enclave.

Moroccan authorities said some had fallen while trying to scramble over the fence, giving an initial toll of 18 dead, but later raising it to 23 after another five migrants died of their injuries.

They said 140 Moroccan police were wounded.

Very few details about the incident were available, but Spanish media showed images of many people lying on the ground, some with bloodied hands and torn clothes.

“We want to know what happened so we can explain it to the relatives of those who died,” said Ahmed, an Eritrean migrant who described Friday’s incident as “a massacre”.

He was among around 50 migrants who held a protest on Tuesday in front of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) headquarters in the Moroccan capital Rabat, some raising signs reading “stop killing us”.

“They beat us inhumanely,” said Omar, a migrant who said he was fleeing “war and prison” at home in Sudan.

“We don’t feel safe here, our lives are in danger,” he told AFP.

PASCOMS, an association for sub-Saharan migrants in Morocco, blamed the European Union, its member states and Morocco for what it called a “disaster”.

‘Migrants beaten with batons’

The death toll was by far the worst recorded in years of attempts by migrants to cross into Melilla, one of Spain’s two North African enclaves which have the EU’s only land borders with Africa, making them a magnet for migrants desperate to escape grinding poverty and hunger.

READ ALSO: Why are Ceuta and Melilla Spanish?

In a statement, the Spanish prosecutors’ office said the decision was made by Attorney General Dolores Delgado in order “to clarify what happened at the Melilla border”, citing the “seriousness and gravity” of the incident.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, told reporters in New York that the “use of excessive force by the authorities” was “unacceptable” an should be investigated.

Members of Spain’s Civil Guard (Guardia Civil) stand guard on their side of the border fence separating Spain’s North African Melilla enclave from Morocco after an attempted assault of migrants in March 2022. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

Earlier on Tuesday, the United Nations’ rights office had called for an independent investigation “as a first step towards establishing the circumstances of the deaths and injuries”, spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said.

While it remained unclear how they had died, Shamdasani said the office had received reports of “migrants beaten with batons, kicked, shoved, and attacked with stones by Moroccan officials as they tried to scale the barbed-wire fence” which is between six and 10 metres high.

Meanwhile Morocco, locked in a worse-than-usual standoff with neighbouring Algeria, blamed its regional rival for “deliberately lax” control of their shared border, according to a statement from its Madrid embassy carried by Spanish media.

Algerian diplomat Amar Belani, charged with the Western Sahara dossier that is at the heart of tensions between Rabat and Algiers, said Morocco was looking for “scapegoats to relieve itself of its responsibilities”.

The African Union has also called for an “immediate investigation”, with AU Commission chief Moussa Faki Mahamat expressing “deep shock and concern at the violent and degrading treatment” of migrants at the border.

In Morocco, prosecutors are moving to press charges against 65 migrants, mostly Sudanese, who tried to storm the border, a defence lawyer in Rabat said on Monday.

READ MORE: What happens to undocumented migrants after they arrive in Spain?

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MIGRATION

Nearly 1,000 migrants died trying to reach Spain in first half of 2022: NGO

At least 978 migrants died or disappeared trying to reach Spain by sea in the first six months of 2022, an average of about five per day, a migrant rights group said Wednesday.

Nearly 1,000 migrants died trying to reach Spain in first half of 2022: NGO

That is less than half of the figure of 2,087 recorded during the first six months of 2021, according to Spanish non-governmental organisation Caminando Fronteras which tracks data from boats in distress.

The group suggests fewer people are attempting to reach Spain because Morocco has stepped up its clampdown on migrant crossings since Rabat and Madrid mended diplomatic ties in March.

It also points out that 2021 was an especially deadly year for attempted migrant crossings to Spain, with more than 4,000 deaths or disappearances.

Moroccan migrants help a Sub-Saharan African man facing difficulties in the water at the border between Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Ceuta on May 19, 2021 in Fnideq. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

More than 80 percent of the deaths or disappearances during the first six months of the year took place during attempts to reach Spain’s Canary Islands in the Atlantic.

The route to the Canaries is particularly dangerous due to strong currents, with trips in often overloaded boats without enough drinking water taking more than a week to reach the archipelago.

Many of the departures are from distant ports in Western Sahara, Mauritania or even Senegal some 1,500 kilometres (900 miles) to the south.

Spain has long been a key entry point for migrants seeking a better life in Europe.

But the number of migrants who entered Spain by sea fell by 35.7 percent in the second quarter of 2022 over the first quarter, according to an AFP tally based on interior ministry figures.

READ ALSO: What happens to undocumented migrants when they arrive in Spain?

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