The EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström, a coalition of 13 NGOs – including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and ECRE – and the UN Refugee Agency have expressed their concern this week regarding Spain’s attempt to give legal cover to the summary return of migrants attempting to cross the border in Ceuta and Melilla.

According to the Spanish newspaper El País, Commissioner Malmström has sent a letter to the Spanish Ministry of Interior Jorge Fernández Díaz asking the Spanish authorities to clarify the proposed amendment to Spain’s immigration law in order to allow the summary return of migrants attempting to cross the border in Ceuta and Melilla. According to El País, the Commission has underlined that this amendment could lead to a violation of Spain’s obligations under EU law.

In addition, Commissioner Malmström condemned the ill-treatment of migrants trying to cross the fence of Melilla on 15 October. A video, filmed by the NGO Prodein, shows a man, who Prodein identified as a 23-year-old Cameroonian named Danny, being beaten by Guardia Civil officers while climbing down a ladder on the Spanish side of the fence, in Melilla. The man is then shown being carried, apparently unconscious, to the Moroccan side of the border. According to Commissioner Malmström, there has been a violation of the Schengen Border Code, the Asylum Procedures Directive, the Returns Directive and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU. The Commissioner says she trusts that the Spanish authorities will undertake an investigation and will put measures in place to ensure that such incidents do not happen again. She requests further information on the disciplinary measures that might be taken against Guardia Civil officers.

Also this week, ECRE, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and 10 Spanish NGOs wrote to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of migrants, François Crépeau, and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, urging them to press the Spanish government to withdraw the proposed amendment that would provide a legal basis for on the spot returns. If adopted, it would formalize an ongoing but unlawful practice of summarily returning migrants and asylum seekers to Morocco even after they have reached Spanish territory.

The calls from NGOs coincide with a two-day visit to Spain by Anne Brasseur, the president of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly. Brasseur should urge Spanish authorities to abandon this deplorable effort to formalize an abusive practice and instead ensure full respect for migrants’ and asylum seekers’ rights at its borders, the groups said.

UNHCR has also expressed concern about the Spanish government’s plans, noting that many of those arriving in the Spanish enclaves on the North African coast are fleeing war, violence and persecution in countries like Syria, the Central African Republic and Mali. UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler said that over 5,000 people have arrived in Ceuta and Melilla this year irregularly, including 2,000 people fleeing the conflict in Syria, 70% of whom are women and children.


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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 31 October 2014. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.