14 February 2014

Jorge Fernández Díaz, Spanish Minister of Interior addressed yesterday the Parliament regarding the death of at least 12 people and the alleged summary return of 23 people from Ceuta last week. These people were part of a larger group of reportedly more than 200 attempting to enter the Spanish city of Ceuta on the North African coast.

The Minister acknowledged in Parliament the use of anti-riot material (rubber bullets and blank cartridges) to “deter” migrants from reaching Ceuta. Minister Fernández Díaz also confirmed that 23 people arrived at the Spanish beach of El Tarajal, in Ceuta, and were immediately handed over to the Moroccan authorities.

The Minister denied that the return of these 23 migrants was a “pushback” operation in violation of international human rights law. While admitting that the migrants had reached the Spanish beach of El Tarajal in Ceuta, the Minister argued that they had never arrived on Spanish territory as the migrants never passed a line of officers posted on the shore, and that therefore Spanish and European legislation was not applicable. 

ECRE, Accem and CEAR have published a statement urging the Spanish government to immediately stop all practices that endanger people’s lives and impede their access to international protection. The NGOs question such a “creative” construction of the territorial scope of Spanish and EU legislation and affirm that when migrants set foot on Spanish soil, they are entitled to the rights laid down in Spanish and European asylum and migration legislation. If confirmed that the migrants concerned have been handed over to the Moroccan authorities without any consideration of their individual circumstances or their international protection needs, this would very likely constitute a violation of the principle of non refoulement as laid down in the 1951 Refugee Convention, the EU asylum acquis and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The organisations request a full and independent investigation by the competent Spanish authorities and call on the European Commission to examine without delay possible breaches of relevant provisions in EU asylum and migration law, including the EU Asylum Procedures Directive, the EU Return Directive, and the Schengen Borders Code, in particular with regard to access to asylum procedures and the right to an effective remedy.

EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström has tweeted that she is “very concerned about Spanish border police using rubber bullets to deter migrants in Ceuta. I expect clarifications from the authorities”.

Regarding the treatment of migrants in Morocco, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has published a new report this week which documents abuse of migrants who have tried to cross into Spain’s territories on the North-African coast by the Moroccan authorities. The report also highlights that Spanish authorities summarily expel migrants from Melilla and use excessive force while doing so.

“We went toward the fence to go into Melilla and we tried to get in. A few of us managed to enter Melilla but the Guardia Civil stopped us. They hit us with clubs. They hit us very hard for 5 to 10 minutes. They handcuffed us [with plastic restraints], and then they opened the gate in the fence and handed us over to the [Moroccan authorities],” states Joseph from Cameroon who attempted to cross the fence earlier this month.

Other interviewees also stated that Moroccan authorities frequently beat the border crossers, including children, who are in their effective custody.

HRW acknowledges that there are some improvements in the treatment of migrants since the government announced a new migration and asylum policy in September 2013 and that summary expulsions to the border with Algeria have ceased. However, the organisation stresses that the migrants interviewed stated that the Moroccan security forces often carry out raids, during which they destroy and burn migrants’ property and makeshift shelters.

HRW highlights that although Morocco has the right to enforce a legal regime for processing migrants, it must not engage in cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of migrants, beating them or robbing their possessions. The report also urges the Spanish Government to ensure that migrants are not arbitrarily removed and to stop the forcible return of migrants to Morocco until Morocco can demonstrate it is capable of systematically protecting asylum seekers and refugees and providing humane treatment for migrants.

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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 14 February 2014
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