Econostrum | Economic News in the Mediterranean

Responsibilities in question after the attempted mass entry of migrants in Melilla

Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Monday, June 27th 2022 à 15:32 | Read 304 times

The clashes were violent between migrants and Moroccan police (photo archives: DR)
The clashes were violent between migrants and Moroccan police (photo archives: DR)
MOROCCO / SPAIN. Three days after the tragedy in Melilla, in the north of Morocco, which cost the lives of at least thirty-seven migrants (23 according to the Moroccan authorities), according to a provisional assessment by several local NGOs, everyone seems to be passing the quid.

In the early hours of Friday 24 June 2022, some 1,300 to 2,000 people (depending on the source), mainly Sudanese and Nigerians, tried to enter this Spanish enclave in Morocco. With the exception of some 130-230 who managed to cross the triple high metal fence marking the border, the "gateway" to the European Union, all were turned back by Moroccan law enforcement officials.

According to a source in the province of Nador, where the injured and dead were evacuated to the Hassani hospital, and quoted by several media, the deaths occurred as a result of "jostling and falling from the iron fence that separates the Spanish enclave from Moroccan territory, during an assault marked by the use of very violent methods on the part of the migrants". According to several NGOs, stone-throwing, the use of iron bars and sticks were met with tear gas grenades and blows with batons.

According to the local Spanish government delegation, 76 migrants were injured, 13 of them seriously. 140 members of the security forces were also among the victims, five of them seriously injured.

Madrid denounces mafias

The International Organisation for Migration (IMO) and the United Nations High Committee on Refugees (UNHCR) have expressed, in a joint statement, "their deepest sorrow and concern at the loss of life and injuries". The agencies "urge all authorities to prioritise the safety of migrants and refugees, refrain from excessive use of force, and uphold their human rights". IMO and UNHCR "stress more than ever the importance of finding durable solutions for people in displacement situations".

Pedro Sanchez called it "an attack on the integrity of Spain". The President of the Spanish Council condemned "a violent and organised assault (...) by mafias who traffic in human beings against a city that is Spanish territory".

Algeria had its say on Sunday 26 June 2022, through the voice of Amar Belani. The special envoy in charge of the Western Sahara and Maghreb countries at the Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs unambiguously points to Morocco as responsible. According to the diplomat, "the images of this carnage are extremely shocking (...) They reveal the extreme brutality and disproportionate use of force which, in the circumstances, are similar to real summary executions. The Algerian authorities, which are on the outs with Morocco, to the point of breaking off diplomatic relations with this neighbour, and more recently with Spain by suspending a friendship and cooperation treaty, are calling for an independent enquiry. They ask that this be entrusted to the UNHCR.

Spain smoothes out the rough edges with Morocco

Omar Naji, in charge of the file on migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH), also insists "on the opening of a thorough investigation to clarify the circumstances of this tragedy". The Democratic Labour Organisation (ODT), a Moroccan trade union, also called on the Moroccan government "to open an investigation into this tragic tragedy and to do what is necessary for the victims on both sides".

"These tragic events highlight the systematic violation of human rights by a state that has chosen, on the one hand, to use the scarecrow of migratory flooding for political blackmail and, on the other hand, to play the role of policeman - for a fee - in the context of the outsourcing of the management of the European Union's external borders", insists Amar Belani.

This attempt to cross the border, the deadliest ever recorded, comes paradoxically at a time when relations between Spain and Morocco are at their best after more than a year of quarrelling. Madrid's official support for the Moroccan autonomy plan for Western Sahara has opened the door to a rapprochement, which has resulted in the signing of a sixteen-point roadmap. But also by the reopening, in May 2022, of the Melilla and Ceuta crossings, the EU's only two land borders on the African continent.

Contrary to previous episodes, Spain has decided to smooth things over for this first border incident since the new entente cordiale between the two kingdoms. Its Prime Minister stated that "the Moroccan gendarmerie had worked in coordination with the Spanish security forces to repel this violent assault that we witnessed". This statement marks the desire for appeasement. In May 2021, when more than 10,000 migrants attempted to enter the enclave of Ceuta, Madrid had pointed the finger at the laxity of Moroccan border controls. At the beginning of March 2022, 2,500 of them, of which nearly 500 were successful, rushed the fences of Melilla. 

The only false note was that of Eduardo de Castro, president of this autonomous city, who spoke of a "disproportionate response from Morocco".

Read also our survey "Ceuta and Melilla, barometers of the relations between Morocco and Spain " 

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