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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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.