Spanish newspaper El País has shown this week that the Spanish Guardia Civil (Spanish policing authorities) continues to push back migrants to Morocco from Melilla, the Spanish city on the northern coast of Morocco. These renewed revelations were made through the disclosure of a recorded conversation on the night of 26 April 2013 where two Spanish officers agree how to hand over to the Moroccan authorities a group of migrants who had jumped the fence between Melilla and Morocco some hours earlier. The push-back took  place through the only part of the fence that is not filmed by security cameras.

Spain’s Law on Foreign Persons provides that irregular migrants who are intercepted at the border have the right to legal assistance and interpretation and should be taken to a police station as soon as possible to proceed with their identification and where appropriate their return. However, these safeguards are not always respected in Melilla. According to El País, around 20-30% of the migrants who manage to climb over the fence do not enter the centre for temporary stay of migrants (CETI, in its Spanish acronym) and this gap could only be explained by the fact that they are intercepted before getting to a police station and returned to Morocco.

According to El País, the officers involved in the push-back operations are told that the 1992 readmission agreement between Spain and Morocco (which is applicable since 2012) provides a legal basis for their acts. However, as Carlos Arce Jiménez, Migration Coordinator at the NGO Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de Andalucía (APDHA) and Researcher at the University of Cordoba explains, “the readmission agreement in itself provides for certain safeguards that are not respected in this kind of action and in any case no bilateral agreement can legitimate a State to violate its own legislation, in this case Spain’s Law on Foreign Persons”. The Spanish Government Delegate in Melilla, Abdelmalik el Barkani, has always denied the existence of these practices that have been denounced for years by NGOs such as Prodein and APDHA, political parties and Spain’s Ombudsman.

Last June, a Union of the Spanish Gendarmerie (Asociación Unificada de Guardia Civiles) asked the Prosecution Office to investigate whether the expulsions of migrants in Melilla are legal or not, arguing that the officers that take part in these operations are in a vulnerable position from a legal point of view as they do not know whether they are breaking the law when they follow orders.

In October, two migrants for Cameroon took Spain to the European Court of Human Rights for being expelled from Isla de Tierra, a Spanish islet off the coast of Morocco, and handed over to Morocco, along with 71 other migrants. The two applicants claim that they did not have access to an individual asylum procedure and were collectively returned to a country where the human rights of sub-Saharan migrants and refugees are systematically violated.

“Everyone knows about the illegal pushbacks to Morocco. The situation is broadly documented but there does not seem to be political will in Spain to put an end to this violation of rights. Our hope is the European Court of Human Rights”, said Carlos Arce Jiménez from APDHA, one of the organisations that located the two applicants who managed to enter again Morocco after having been expelled to Argelia.

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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 22 November 2013
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