Photography: Javier Bernardo/AP
The Spanish government is facing growing calls to explain how at least 23 people died in a massive storming of the border fence between Morocco and the Spanish North African enclave of Melilla nearly five years ago. month.
MPs who visited the border on a fact-finding trip appeared to corroborate reports – first aired in a BBC Africa Eye investigation broadcast last week – that dead bodies were dragged from an area controlled by Spain by the Moroccan police.
Clashes erupted followed by a deadly crash on June 24 when some 2,000 migrants, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, tried to scale the fence.
Video footage shared by the Moroccan Association for Human Rights showed dozens of people crammed into an area next to the border fence – some bleeding and many motionless – as Moroccan forces in riot gear watched them the day after the incident.
Morocco and Spain say their border guards did not use excessive force to repel the incursion. But the BBC investigation and Spanish MPs cast doubt on the official version of events.
“Given what we have seen, there is every reason to believe that people have obviously died in an area that was under the control of the Spanish authorities,” said Enrique Santiago, MP for the Unidas Podemos alliance, which governs Spain. Spain in coalition with the largest socialist party.
“So if there have been deaths in an area under the control of the Spanish authorities, it is the Spanish authorities who must carry out an investigation.”
Spain’s Guardia Civil police also admitted that their officers fired dozens of tear gas canisters and rubber bullets in an attempt to repel the migrants. According to human rights groups, the use of tear gas may have been one of the triggers for the crush.
Jon Iñarritu, deputy of the Basque independence party EH Bildu, said: “There is no doubt that the main events took place in Spanish territory”. Iñarritu also tweeted that Guardia Civil officers responded to the incursion by firing 86 tear gas canisters, 28 smoke bombs, 65 rubber bullets, 270 warning shots and 41 doses of pepper spray.
Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska insisted that “there were no fatalities on Spanish territory”, adding that Guardia Civil officers acted “totally within the framework of the law and with the necessary proportionality required by the events”.
He promised the government would be “absolutely transparent” and show MPs photos and footage of the incursion taken from helicopters, drones and border cameras. Grande-Marlaska said the footage had already been turned over to prosecutors and the public ombudsman’s office.
Independent UN experts blamed the deaths on “excessive and lethal force”, called the continuing lack of accountability so many months after the tragedy “alarming” and questioned the official death toll.
E Tendayi Achiume – the outgoing UN special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, xenophobia and related intolerance – and refugee and migrant NGO Walking Borders put the death toll at 37 .
“At least 37 Africans have been killed and dozens more injured due to excessive and lethal use of force by Moroccan and Spanish law enforcement,” Achiume and the task force said. UN experts on people of African descent in a joint statement in late October.
“The violence documented in videos of the scenes at the Melilla Gate tragically reveals the status quo of European Union borders, namely racial exclusion and deadly violence deployed to alienate people of African and Middle Eastern descent. , and other non-white populations, regardless of their rights under international refugee law or international human rights law.
Experts from the UN Committee on Migrant Workers have also called on Spain and Morocco to carry out thorough investigations into what happened on June 24, adding: “It remains to be determined whether the victims died falling fence, in a stampede or as a result of any action taken by border control officers.
Eight months ago, Grande-Marlaska defended the behavior of the police officers filmed beat up and pepper spray a young sub-Saharan African as he scaled the border fence in Melilla, again insisting that the officers’ use of force was “proportionate”.
In June, Spain’s Supreme Court upheld the suspension of an investigation into the deaths of 14 people who drowned in the sea off Spain’s other North African enclave of Ceuta in 2014 after Guardia officers Civilians opened fire with rubber bullets and tear gas.