Protesters rally in Spain, Morocco over migrant deaths

Rallies were held in several Spanish cities and in Rabat on Friday.

Protesters rally in Spain, Morocco over migrant deaths
Protestors hold signs as they take part in demonstrations against border policy in Spain's African enclaves in Barcelona on July 1, 2022. Photo: Pau BARRENA/AFP

Demonstrators held rallies in several Spanish cities and in Rabat late Friday to protest over the deaths of 23 African migrants who died in a crush trying to enter the Spanish enclave of Melilla in northern Morocco.

Thousands of protesters gathered in Barcelona, Malaga, Vigo and San Sebastian and in Melilla itself to denounce migration policies and the “militarisation of borders”.

In the Moroccan capital, a few dozen representatives of the Collective of Sub-Saharan Communities in Morocco and associations helping migrants demonstrated in front of parliament calling for Rabat to “stop playing the role of EU policeman”.

“We demand an end to the migration policy funded by the European Union, the opening of an independent investigation and the return of the bodies to the families,” activist Mamadou Diallo told AFP.

“The Europeans colonised us and took everything from us to develop. Today, if we go to them, it means that we have the right to leave,” he said.

Moroccan prosecutors have initiated proceedings against 65 migrants, mostly Sudanese, accused of having taken part in the mass attempt to enter Melilla from Morocco a week ago.

At least 23 migrants died when around 2,000, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, tried to break through the fence into the Spanish enclave, according to Moroccan authorities, while NGOs say at least 37 lost their lives.

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

‘Borders kill’ 

The tragedy has provoked international indignation, including an unusually strong response from the United Nations, and the opening of investigations by Spain and Morocco.

In Madrid, several hundred people took up the slogans of the “Black Lives Matter” movement and chanted “No human being is illegal!” and held up signs that read: “Borders kill.”

“This country makes me ashamed,” said Carmen Reco, 77, attending the protest after this “injustice which resulted in the murder of migrants because they were trying to enter Spain”.

Renzo Rupay, who works in transport, said he was shocked by “the images of the border”. “I too am a migrant, arrived with a child’s travel papers. Not everyone has the possibility of arriving legally in Spain,” the 28-year-old said.

“It’s not normal that so many people die. We’re talking about human lives, people fleeing war and we kill them at the border,” said Eva Ruiz, a 24-year-old student.

According to Rabat, the victims died “in jostling and falling” from the top of the metal gate that separates Morocco from Melilla during an attempt to storm the border “marked by the use of very violent methods on the part of migrants”.

But images quickly emerged that “show bodies strewn on the ground in pools of blood, Moroccan security forces kicking and beating people, and Spanish Guardia Civil launching teargas at men clinging to fences,” according to Human Rights Watch.

The migrant rush in Melilla came after Madrid and Rabat normalised their diplomatic relations following an almost year-long crisis centred on the disputed Western Sahara territory.

For Spain, the main objective of the diplomatic thaw was to ensure Morocco’s cooperation in controlling illegal immigration.

READ ALSO: Spanish prosecutor opens probe into Melilla migrant deaths

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Spain smashes ring smuggling Albanian migrants to Britain

Spanish police said Saturday they have broken up a gang suspected of smuggling Albanian migrants including children into Britain, hidden as stowaways in dangerous conditions aboard ferries and merchant ships.

Spain smashes ring smuggling Albanian migrants to Britain

Officers arrested seven suspects, all Albanians from an “important criminal organisation”, during the operation carried out in cooperation with Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA), the Guardia Civil police force said.

Among those arrested are the two suspected ringleaders, who were detained Monday about to board a flight at Madrid airport bound for Albania, the force said in a statement.

The smugglers charged Albanians up to €15,000 to stow them away from ports in northern Spain. “The methods used to conceal them posed a risk to the life or physical integrity of the migrants, some of them minors,” the statement said.

Police said the group was believed to have been active since 2014, and would “recruit” migrants in Albania or camps near the northern ports. The smuggling network provided migrants with accommodation and food until they made their journey to Britain.

The NCA said the number of migrants the group smuggled is unknown, but around 50 people who made the crossing with their help have so far been identified by British and Spanish authorities.

“People smugglers put lives at risk, which is why disrupting and dismantling criminal networks like this is a priority,” NCA international regional manager Steve Reynolds said in a statement.

Officers seized items as part of their operation including telephones, computers, bank cards and cash receipts as well as identity documents and passports.