Spain insists no migrant deaths on its soil despite new evidence

Spain's interior minister has reiterated that no deaths occurred on Spanish soil when migrants stormed Melilla from Morocco in June, leaving at least 23 people dead. A new investigation based on footage of the event claims otherwise.

migrant deaths spanish soil
"There has been no loss of life on national territory," reaffirmed Spain's Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska on Wednesday.(Photo by Alberto DI LOLLI / various sources / AFP)

Marlaska’s comments came a day after several European media outlets – including Spanish daily El País, France’s Le Monde and Germany’s Der Spiegel – published an investigation which concluded that at least one migrant died on the Spanish side of the border.

One of the videos of the mass crossing, of the more than 100 that they’ve analysed, shows a Moroccan police officer on Spanish soil saying “he’s dead” when checking the pulse of a sub-Saharan migrant on the ground, described by the investigative team as “graphic evidence”.

But the Spanish government continue to deny the claims.

“I have said it before and I will repeat it again: we are talking about tragic events that took place outside our country. There has been no loss of life on national territory,” Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska.

The minister said the “tragedy should never have happened” but said it “originated in a violent attempt to enter our country”.

The interior minister has been in the hot seat since the border breach on June 24th, with opposition parties calling for his resignation. This was his second appearance in parliament to discuss the tragedy.

The Spanish authorities said up to 2,000 migrants stormed the high fence that seals off Melilla from Morocco and engaged in a two-hour skirmish with border officers.

While scores succeeded in reaching the Spanish territory at the northern tip of Africa, Moroccan authorities said at least 23 people were killed in a crush while others died from falling after climbing up.

It was the highest death toll in years from such attempted crossings into Melilla.

Video evidence

The media investigation published Tuesday showed images of an African migrant on the ground of the Spanish side of the border.

A member of the Moroccan security forces can be seen taking his pulse and then is heard declaring the migrant dead.

Another migrant who was at his side confirmed his death, according to the investigations which was based on interviews with dozens of survivors of the tragedy.

A BBC documentary which aired on November 1st said video footage showed “at least one dead body” at the entrance of the Melilla border post, as well as other bodies being removed by Moroccan security forces.

Spanish authorities had confirmed this area was “under their control”, the BBC added.

Both Spanish and Moroccan authorities have defended their actions during the attempted border crossing saying the migrants had been violent and that reasonable force had been used.

Grande-Marlaska repeated those arguments on Wednesday, saying he “sympathises” with the causes such as wars pushing people to try to move to Europe “but that does not justify a violent attack against the borders of a country”.

The Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta have long been a magnet for people fleeing violence and poverty across Africa, seeking refuge via the continent’s only land borders with the European Union.

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Right leads mass protest against Spanish government in Madrid

Thousands of people protested in Madrid on Saturday against Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's leftist government in a rally held in a key election year that was backed by far-right party Vox.

Right leads mass protest against Spanish government in Madrid

Participants waved red and yellow Spanish flags and called on Sanchez to resign. Some held up signs with a photo of the Socialist premier calling him a “traitor”.

Around 30,000 people gathered in Madrid’s Cibeles Square for the rally, according to the central government’s delegation in the Spanish capital. Organisers said some 700,000 people had taken part.

The protest was called by dozens of right-leaning civil society groups and backed by conservative parties including the main opposition conservative Popular Party (PP) and Vox.

The right is angered by the government’s decision to abolish the crime of sedition, of which nine separatist leaders were convicted over their role in the Catalonia region’s abortive secession bid in 2017. It was replaced with an offence carrying a lower prison sentence.

READ MORE: Spain drops sedition charge against ex-Catalan leader

Conservatives are also angered by a flagship law against sexual violence that toughened penalties for rape but eased sentences for other sexual crimes. This has set some convicts free after their jail terms were reduced.

Speaking to reporters at the start of the rally, Vox leader Santiago Abascal denounced “the worst government in history” which “has divided Spaniards and freed rapists and coup leaders”.

“We need a permanent and massive mobilisation until the autocrat Pedro Sanchez is expelled from power,” he added.

Conservative poll edge 

Retired accountant Antonio Orduna, 67, told AFP said he was upset the government was “letting those who want to break up Spain off the hook.”

He cited the abolishment of the crime of sedition and Sanchez’s 2021 decision to pardon the Catalan separatists initially sentenced to between nine and 13 years in prison for their role in the failed secession bid.

Madrid protests

A protestor holds a Spanish national flag as they gather during the anti-government demonstration on the Plaza de Cibeles square in Madrid, on January 21st, 2023. Photo by Pierre-Philippe Marcou / AFP

Catalonia’s attempt to become an independent state sparked Spain’s worst political crisis in decades, with then-Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and several others fleeing abroad to escape prosecution.

PP leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo, who has tried to push the party to the centre since becoming its leader in April, was not at the rally but encouraged members for the formation to attend.

Most polls suggest the PP would win a general election expected at the end of the year but would need the support of Vox to govern. Before that, Spain will vote in May in regional and local elections.

One of the main dilemmas facing Feijoo is whether to continue pursuing political alliances with Vox as it has in some region or to freeze them out to try to widen the PP’s base.

Vox splintered off from the PP in 2013 and is now the third-largest force in parliament.

‘Before the abyss’

Lacking a parliamentary majority, Sanchez’s government has been forced since its formation to negotiate with Basque and Catalan separatists to pass bills, which has angered many on the right.

Conservatives accuse Sanchez of having eliminated the crime of sedition to assure the continued support of Catalan pro-independence party ERC in tight parliamentary votes.

“All he cares about is remaining in power,” said Rosa Torosio, a 44-year-old housewife at the rally.

Spain protest

Protesters wave Spanish national flags during the anti-government demonstration on the Plaza de Cibeles square in Madrid, on January 21st, 2023. Photo by Pierre-Philippe Marcou / AFP

The government argues sedition is an antiquated offence that needed to be replaced with one better aligned to European norms.

Sanchez defended his record, telling a Socialist party rally in the northern city of Valladolid on Saturday his government had to take steps to defuse the conflict in Catalonia.

The separatist bid which happened under the watch of the previous PP government had left Spain standing “before the abyss,” he added.

Sanchez also recalled that his government has ramped up social spending to help Spaniards deal with high inflation, for example by increasing pensions and civil servant salaries.