“There was no massacre” in Melilla, says the Spanish Minister of Interior on the death of at least 70 people blaming the tragedy on the migrants he called an “extremely violent group”. Spain questions whether Melilla’s deadly events occurred in its territory, and Morocco denies entry to a group of MEPs on a mission to investigate the tragedy.

While human rights organisations see Melilla events that resulted in the killing of least 70 people as a “new phase in the bloody story of Fortress Europe”, the Spanish Minister of Interior Fernando Grande-Marlaska appeared on 21 September in the plenary session of Congress saying “There was no massacre” in Melilla. He even justified the police response calling it “timely and proportionate in the face of what he described as “intolerable and violent” action of migrants. Minister Marlaska also deflected the complicity of both the Spanish police and the Moroccan police that physically attacked, dispersed and handcuffed migrants in Melilla. Instead, Minister Marlaska expressed “solidarity” with police teams from both sides. Additionally, he defined the pushbacks of several of the young people who managed to cross the border as “border rejections”. The explanations of Minister Marlaska received criticism from several deputies of congress. Deputy Maria Dantas said “Spain pays and Morocco kills” and posed a question to the minister: “Can’t you control borders without inflicting dehumanising and degrading treatment?”. “What has happened is barbaric and there is no proportional response when there are 37 dead”, deputy Genís Boadella added, while deputy Mikel Legarda condemned Minister Marlaska’s use of the term “adequate action” referring to the violent police reaction and pointed out the “failure” of the investigation.

On the same day of the Minister’s speech, a delegation of MEPs from the left group in the European Parliament, on mission to investigate the tragedy was denied access by Moroccan authorities at the Nador border crossing point. “The Left condemns the denial of entry of our delegation and we will continue to use all official means in the search for establishing the truth and to hold those responsible for what happened accountable,” the delegation stated, adding: “We will continue to fight to end the blatant disregard for human life at the EU’s external borders. Seeking asylum is a fundamental right. EU migration policy must be based on reception, human rights and guaranteeing safe and legal routes to the EU, to ensure that such incidents never happen again.” Left MEP Miguel Urban Crespo declared: “If we are not allowed to go to Morocco it means they are covering something up. And what they are covering up are the murders that happened on 24 June.” While Spanish politicians have questioned whether events took place on Spanish soil, Amnesty International stated: “We have indications to consider that everything happened in Spanish territory”. In response to the dispute, the Spanish Ministry of the Interior rejected any interpretation that points to the tragedy happening on Spanish soil saying: “No one, neither the State Security Forces and Bodies, nor the administrations of Melilla, nor the Attorney General’s Office, nor the Ombudsman, nor the Moroccan authorities have ever doubted that the events occurred in Moroccan territory”. The question is key in the trajectory of the tragedy’s investigation and the assignment of accountabilities. According to El Pais, “Sources of the Prosecutor’s Office assure that if it is determined that they occurred in Moroccan territory, the investigation will be archived. If, on the other hand, they have been in Spanish territory, they should go ahead”. Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH) sees these developments as a way for the Spanish and Moroccan authorities “to cover up the scandal and conceal the people responsible, who continue to have access to various propaganda channels at the national and regional levels”, adding that “authorities in both countries appear to be dragging their feet when it comes to investigating responsibilities and the role played by different actors”. Meanwhile, migrants continue to face criminalisation in Morocco over the border cross attempts. On 25 September, Arab News pointed out that a Moroccan appeals court has sentenced 12 more Sudanese migrants to three years in jail over “violence” on the Spanish-Moroccan border, bringing the total number of arrests to 77 including a minor.

People continue to risk their lives on perilous journeys to arrive in Europe across the Atlantic and Western Mediterranean. Between 20-21 September, Spain’s maritime rescue service said that 193 people of sub-Saharan origin arrived on the Canary Islands on four separate boats. The first boat of 48 people including two children and a baby arrived in the south of Fuerteventura without any assistance. The second vessel with 58 people on board was assisted by the Sasemar rescue ship to Puerto del Rosario. The third boat – a rubber dinghy – carried 58 migrants including six children who were disembarked in the capital of Lanzarote. The fourth group of 29 people were also rescued by the Sasemar vessel and brought to the Arguineguín pier. On 22 September, local media reported that Salvamento Marítimo rescued two vessels carrying 76 people but a baby, his mother and a man were taken to the hospital as they showed signs of hypothermia. On 23 September, two vessels of 21 Moroccans including a woman were rescued. On 24 September, three boats of 31 people were located by a maritime rescue crew on the coast of Alicante. Seven people were rescued after the shipwreck of the first boat but more are believed to be missing. The second boat was empty but the 11 people who had been on board were found later. The third boat carried 10 people who were all rescued. On 25 September, Alarm Phone was informed about four boats carrying almost 200 people that were trying to make their way to the Canary Islands in stormy weather. One of the boats returned independently to Morocco. The second boat was intercepted by Moroccan authorities. The fate of the 100 people on the last two vessels remain unknown. On 26 September, two Algerian nationals were rescued by Salvamento Marítimo. The search for another ten people believed to have been on board the sunken boat ended without result.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.