Melilla migrants sentenced to 8 months in Moroccan jail

Morocco on Thursday sentenced 14 migrants to eight months in jail following their arrest a day before a deadly mass crossing into the Spanish enclave of Melilla in June.

Melilla migrants sentenced to 8 months in Moroccan jail
A Moroccan security forces guard patrols the border fence separating Morocco and Spain's North African enclave of Melilla, on June 26, 2022. Photo: FADEL SENNA/ AFP

Fourteen migrants have been sentenced to eight months in Moroccan jail following their arrest a day before a deadly mass crossing into the Spanish enclave of Melilla in June, their lawyer has said.

“It’s a very severe judgement,” the lawyer, Mbarek Bouirig, told AFP. He said he planned to appeal.

The accused, mostly from impoverished Sudan, were arrested on June 23 during a Moroccan operation near Melilla, which along with Spain’s other enclave of Ceuta is the EU’s only land border with Africa.

At least 23 migrants died the following day when around 2,000 people, many also Sudanese, stormed the fences along the frontier. It was the heaviest death toll in years of attempted crossings into the enclaves.

The 14 were charged with offences including belonging to a criminal immigration gang and insulting law enforcement officers, Bouirig said.

Omar Naji of the AMDH human rights group, which monitored the trial, said the migrants did not try to cross the border.

 “Why condemn migrants whose sole wrongdoing was to have taken refuge in a forest?” he asked.

A Moroccan court last month sentenced 33 migrants to 11 months in jail for illegal entry, while a separate trial of 29 migrants including a minor continues.

Spanish rights group Caminando Fronteras says as many as 37 people lost their lives in the mass crossing attempt, higher than the official toll of 23.

The United Nations, the African Union and independent rights groups have condemned the use of excessive force by Moroccan and Spanish security personnel.

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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.