Spain defends Guardia Civil after migrant deaths

The Spanish government has defended the actions of Guardia Civil agents after 23 migrants died trying to enter the Spanish North African territory of Melilla last month.

Spain defends Guardia Civil after migrant deaths
The border between Melilla and Morocco. Photo: FADEL SENNA / AFP)

Spain’s Ministry of the Interior has refused to directly address the findings of a Moroccan human rights commission investigating the deadly tragedy in the North African Spanish territory of Melilla last month. It has, however, as it has several times before, reinforced its belief that the Spanish Guardia Civil acted within international legal frameworks.

Without commenting on the commission’s findings, the government has reiterated that the Guardia Civil acted “within the criteria of proportionality and full respect for human rights, without any of the [police] agents being able to attribute any type of action contrary to that.”

READ ALSO: Why are Ceuta and Melilla Spanish?

The National Human Rights Council (CNDH), a commission set up by the Moroccan government, delivered its preliminary findings this week and questioned the role of the Spanish authorities after the attempted border crossing of more than 2,000 sub-Saharans Migrants from Nador, Morocco into Melilla left 23 dead and 217 injured, of which 140 were police and 77 migrants. 

“The council concluded that 23 people had passed away, and that none of them were buried,” Amina Bouayach, chair of the CNDH, said in a press conference. 

A doctor who examined the bodies during the CNDH investigation ruled that the victims most likely died of “mechanical asphyxiation” – when a person is prevented from breathing by force or an object, such as in a crush.

The commission also suggested that the Spanish authorities “vacillated” in providing “the necessary assistance” to avoid an increase in violence and danger, which in turn led to more deaths.

Most of the dead and injured, the commission claims, were fleeing conflict in Sudan and Chad, and all of them had arrived in Morocco through Libya and Algeria.

The commission alleges that the ugly acts of violence seen in both the Spanish and Moroccan media happened, in part, because of the inaction of the Spanish authorities meant that the “front of the [border] doors remained hermetically closed,” and that the most likely outcome of this was to “increase the number of deaths and injuries.”

The commission could not conclude, however, whether the injuries of migrants were the result of falling from the fence, and the crush more generally, or from a disproportionate use of force by Spanish or Morrocan authorities. 

Local authorities, NGO’s and affected migrants themselves have all been interviewed by the commission, and it has concluded that “bullets were not used” at any time and that security forces largely used a combination of tear gas and batons.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez described the deadly migrant rush in the enclave as “an attack on the territorial integrity” of Spain which he blamed on “mafias that traffic in human beings,” and Spain has itself began a probe into the disaster, with public prosecutors saying some weeks ago that they had opened an investigation into the deaths.

READ ALSO: Spanish prosecutor opens probe into Melilla migrant deaths

Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Dunja Mijatovic, has urged Spain to undertake an independent investigation into what happened.

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Three migrants found dead on boat rescued off Spain’s coast

Spanish rescuers on Monday found three dead migrants and 45 survivors, mostly Moroccan and some in very bad condition, on a boat off Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands, the coastguard said.

Three migrants found dead on boat rescued off Spain's coast

Rescuers from Salvamento Maritimo were called out to a boat in trouble off the island and reached the vessel just after midnight, a spokesman said.

He said the crew had found 45 survivors — 42 men, two women and a child — and three bodies.

All those rescued were Moroccan, with the exception of one sub-SaharanAfrican man,” he told AFP.

The 112 emergency services said five of those on board were in bad condition, adding that six people had been taken to hospital.

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

In the first seven months of the year, 9,589 migrants survived the extremely dangerous sea journey from the coast of Africa to the Spanish islands in the Atlantic, compared with 7,531 a year earlier, interior ministry figures correct to July 31 show.

In the same period, sea arrivals to Spain’s Balearic Isles in the Balearic Isles fell to 5,284 from 7,292 a year earlier.

Monday’s rescue comes after a frenetic weekend for Salvamento Maritimo which pulled nearly 600 people to safety in waters off the Atlantic archipelago.

Migrant arrivals on the Atlantic archipelago have surged since late 2019 after increased patrols along Europe’s southern coast dramatically reduced Mediterranean crossings.

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

At its shortest, the route from the Moroccan coast is around 100 kilometres (60 miles), but migrants often come from much further afield, with the distance from Mauritania more than 1,000 kilometres as the crow flies.

The Atlantic route is notoriously dangerous because of strong currents, with migrants often setting sail in overcrowded ramshackle boats which are extremely unsafe.

READ ALSO: How Europe’s population is changing and what the EU is doing about it