The tragic incident that occurred one year ago at the Spain-Morocco border, resulting in the deaths of at least 23 migrants, continues to generate outrage as no one has been held accountable for the actions of the authorities involved.
According to Spanish authorities, around 2,000 migrants, many of whom hailed from war-torn Sudan, attempted to breach the high fence separating Morocco from Spain’s North African enclave of Melilla on June 24, 2022.
Violent clashes broke out between the migrants and border officers.
Despite widespread condemnation of the methods used by Moroccan and Spanish police in repelling the migrants, no official charges have been brought against the authorities in either country.
Miguel Urban Crespo, a left-wing member of the European Parliament, has been advocating for greater accountability in this case. He expressed his dismay, stating, “There is total impunity. It’s a terrible precedent for Europe, for Spain.”
Last year’s tragedy, which claimed the lives of at least 23 migrants according to Morocco and at least 37 according to Amnesty International and independent experts, marked one of the deadliest incidents in the years-long struggle of migrants attempting to cross into Melilla. Rights groups reported that at least 76 other migrants were still missing.
Morocco claimed that some migrants fell from the fence while others suffocated during a stampede caused by panic. However, an Amnesty International report, based on witness testimony, revealed that the migrants were subjected to tear gas, stoning, beatings, and kicks while on the ground.
Both Morocco and Spain have denied using excessive force and have accused the migrants of instigating violence.
The premature closure of the investigation into the incident by Spain’s public prosecutor’s office in December drew criticism from opposition parties, who called for the resignation of Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska. However, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez expressed his full confidence in the minister.
The prosecutor’s office stated that there was insufficient evidence of criminal wrongdoing by Spanish security forces, concluding that their actions did not increase the risk to the migrants’ lives and physical well-being to warrant charges of reckless homicide.
Jon Inarritu, a Spanish parliament member, criticized the premature closure of the investigation, emphasizing that key questions remained unanswered regarding the number of casualties, the cause of death, and the potential contribution of tear gas to the fatalities. He speculated that the Spanish government’s reluctance to upset Moroccan authorities might be a motivating factor.
Spain fears that Morocco could retaliate by allowing migrants to enter Spain, as it has done in the past during periods of tension between the two countries, according to Inarritu.
Morocco initiated its own judicial inquiry but has not assigned responsibility to any individuals. Instead, the country has prosecuted numerous migrants who participated in the mass attempt to cross into Melilla, resulting in 87 migrants being sentenced to prison terms of up to four years for illegal entry or involvement in human trafficking, according to the Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH).
Omar Naji, head of AMDH’s branch in Nador near Melilla, called for an independent investigation, citing numerous unanswered questions, including the fate of the 76 missing migrants. A video released by AMDH after the tragedy showed Moroccan police standing over a pile of men, some bleeding, some barely moving or not moving at all.
Only one of the deceased migrants has been identified and buried, while the others await identification through DNA testing of their family members, as reported by AMDH and Moroccan authorities.
Hassan Ammari, president of the Moroccan association Help for Migrants in Vulnerable Situations, stated that the deaths could have been prevented if ambulances had arrived earlier.
Activists continue to push for answers
Five Spanish rights groups filed a lawsuit last week in Melilla over the border deaths.
“This lawsuit is the only option left to the survivors, victims and their families to know the truth and obtain justice,” said Helena Maleno of migrant rights group Walking Borders.