Human rights groups have called for an investigation after at least 23 people died trying to scale a border fence between Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Melilla in North Africa.
Authorities in Morocco and Spain said the individuals died following a “scramble” with around 2,000 people trying to scale the iron fence on Friday, some falling in the attempt.
The Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH) shared videos on Saturday of the aftermath of the mass crossing attempt, showing dozens of people lying near the border fence, some bleeding and many apparently lifeless as forces Moroccan security guards stood above them.
In one of the clips, a Moroccan security guard appears to be using a truncheon to hit a person lying on the ground.
The AMDH called for a “full, prompt and serious” investigation into Friday’s events and said many of the injured “were left there unaided for hours, which increased the death toll”.
The group also gave a higher death toll than the figure provided by Morocco’s interior ministry, saying 29 people were killed, but the figure could not immediately be confirmed.
Five rights organizations in Morocco and APDHA, a human rights group based in Spain’s southern region of Andalusia, also backed the call for an investigation. They urged authorities not to bury those killed until official investigations are complete.
There was no immediate comment from Moroccan authorities on the AMDH allegations, but an unnamed Moroccan official told Reuters news agency that security personnel had not made excessive use of the force during Friday’s events.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez meanwhile condemned the mass crossing attempt as a “violent aggression” and an “attack on the territorial integrity” of Spain.
“If there is anyone responsible for everything that seems to have happened at this border, it is the mafias who traffic in human beings,” he said.
A Spanish police source told Reuters that those who tried to breach the fence used sticks, knives and acid against security forces and changed tactics to try to cross a perceived weak point en masse. , rather than in separate attempts along the fence.
Some 133 people crossed the border, while 176 Moroccan security agents and 49 Spanish border guards were injured, authorities said.
Ousmane Ba, a Senegalese asylum seeker on the Moroccan side who leads a community group to help others like him, said the violence followed days of growing tension in the region.
Ba, who was neither involved in Friday’s incident nor a witness, said asylum seekers living nearby repeatedly clashed with Moroccan security forces as they attempted to cross the fence. earlier this week.
Many of them are living rough in the nearby countryside and are desperate, he said. “I have never seen migrants attack so violently. We mourn the deaths near the fence,” he said.
Amnesty International issued a statement saying it was deeply concerned about the events at the border.
“Although the migrants acted violently in their attempt to enter Melilla, as far as border control is concerned, all is not well,” said Esteban Beltran, director of Amnesty International Spain. “The human rights of migrants and refugees must be respected and situations like this cannot happen again.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also intervened in a statement expressing “deep sadness and concern” at what happened at the Morocco-Morocco border. Melilla.
“IOM and UNHCR urge all authorities to prioritize the safety of migrants and refugees, to refrain from the use of excessive force and to respect their human rights,” the organizations said.
Spain’s Commission for Refugees, CEAR, has also denounced what it described as “the indiscriminate use of violence to manage migration and control borders” and expressed concern that the violence has prevented people eligible for international protection to reach Spanish soil.
The Catholic Church in the city of Malaga, in southern Spain, meanwhile said that “Morocco and Spain have chosen to eliminate human dignity at our borders, saying that the arrival of migrants must be avoided at all costs and forgetting the lives that are torn apart along the way.”
Melilla and Ceuta, Spain’s other North African enclave, have the European Union’s only land borders on the African continent.
Friday’s massive crossing attempt was the first since Spain and Morocco mended relations after a year-long dispute over Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony annexed by Morocco in 1976. The dispute began when Madrid authorized Brahim Ghali, leader of Western Sahara. Independence Polisario Front, to be treated for COVID-19 in a Spanish hospital in April 2021.
Rabat wants Western Sahara to have autonomous status under Moroccan sovereignty, but the Polisario Front insists on a UN-supervised self-determination referendum, as agreed in a 1991 ceasefire agreement.
A month after Spain allowed Ghali to be treated in a Spanish hospital, some 10,000 refugees and migrants crossed the Moroccan border into the Spanish enclave of Ceuta as border guards reportedly looked the other way, in what was widely seen as a punitive gesture by Rabat.