Twenty-three migrants died during an attempt to force nearly 2,000 illegal immigrants of African origin on Friday into the Spanish enclave of Melilla, in northern Morocco, according to an updated report published this Saturday evening by the Moroccan local authorities. 18 migrants and a member of the security forces remain under medical supervision”. The previous official toll reported 18 dead.
Spain strongly denounced this Saturday “an attack” against its territorial integrity and accused “mafias”. Spain’s Socialist Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, described the drama as a “violent and organized (…) assault by mafias who traffic in human beings, against a city that is Spanish territory”. “Therefore, it was an attack on the territorial integrity of our country,” he added during a press conference in Madrid.
The death toll of 23 migrants is the deadliest ever recorded in the many attempts by sub-Saharan migrants to enter Melilla and the other Spanish city of Ceuta, which constitute the EU’s only borders with the African continent.
An investigation demanded
For its part, the main Moroccan human rights organization called on Saturday for “the opening of a rapid and transparent investigation” into this unprecedented “tragedy” in Morocco, according to statements to AFP by Mohamed Amine Abidar, the president of the section of Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH) in Nador (northern Morocco).
In Spain, an MEP from the radical left party Podemos, an ally of the Socialists in the minority government of Pedro Sánchez, echoed him on Saturday. “An investigation is necessary to clarify the facts and responsibilities,” said Idoia Villanueava, head of Podemos for international affairs, in a tweet.
The “most violent attempt I have ever seen”
Many testimonies highlighted the violence on both sides during Friday’s events. “It is the attempt” to enter Melilla “the most violent that I have ever seen”, told AFP Rachid Nerjjari, waiter in a cafe located in front of the fence which marks the border in the district. Moroccan from Barrio Chino. He said he saw “migrants armed with sticks and iron bars, a first in the region”.
The action of the Moroccan security forces to prevent these approximately 2,000 migrants from entering Melilla also raised many questions.
While acknowledging that the onslaught of migrants had been “violent”, Eduardo de Castro, the president (mayor) of Melilla and the highest political authority of this autonomous city, thus denounced a “disproportionate response” from Morocco to the attempt to forced passage of illegal immigrants. “Morocco allows itself certain things that would not be acceptable” in Spain, he said.
Calm has returned to the city
At the scene, calm returned on Saturday to Nador, a city bordering the Spanish enclave, as well as around the high iron fence that separates Morocco from Melilla. There is thus no trace of migrants in the city. According to Mohamed Amine Abidar, of the AMDH, they would have “moved away for fear of being moved by the Moroccan authorities”, generally towards the south of the country. A witness said he saw several buses carrying migrants out of Nador.
The situation was also calm on the Spanish side of the Melilla fence, according to footage from public broadcaster TVE, which showed workers repairing damage to the fence. A total of 130 migrants managed to enter Melilla on Friday. Only one of them remained hospitalized, according to sources from the Spanish prefecture.
The death toll is said to be 27.
According to the Spanish NGO Caminando Fronteras, a specialist in migration between Africa and Spain, the toll would in fact amount to 27 dead.
For Mohamed Amine Abidar, from the AMDH, “the main cause of this disaster is the migration policy conducted by the European Union in cooperation with Morocco”.
For his part, the Spanish Prime Minister unhesitatingly pointed out “the mafias that engage in human trafficking”. He also once again welcomed the attitude of the Moroccan gendarmerie, “which worked in coordination with the Spanish” security forces and bodies “to repel this violent assault”.
This massive attempt to enter one of the two Spanish enclaves is the first since the normalization in March of relations between Madrid and Rabat, after a diplomatic quarrel of almost a year.