Moroccan officials said on Saturday that 18 migrants had died and scores were injured after what authorities described as a stampede during a mass crossing in the Spanish enclave of Melilla, North Africa. But human rights organizations have accused the security forces of using indiscriminate force at the crossing, and called for an investigation into the deaths.
A spokeswoman for the Spanish government’s office in Melilla said about 2,000 migrants approached the enclave at dawn Friday. He said 500 had managed to enter a border control area after cutting through a fence, leading to violent clashes that also left security officers on both sides of the border injured.
According to the Moroccan authorities, many migrants fell to try to scale the border after their deaths, while 76 others, as well as 140 Moroccan security officers, were injured. At least 130 people were able to successfully cross into Melilla, where they are now being processed into a temporary immigration shelter, according to Spanish officials in the enclave.
In an episode of the video that was shared by the Moroccan Association of Human Rights, and confirmed by geolocation, dozens of bodies and injured men can be seen piled on top of each other along the border fence, surrounded by Moroccan security officers in riot gear. General Chat Chat Lounge In other footage, a Moroccan security officer can be seen visibly injured migrants with a baton as they lie on the floor, before a colleague proceeds to throw the limp body onto another man’s pile.
Melilla and Ceuta, another Spanish enclave, have the European Union’s only land borders with Africa, making them a frequent target for mass crossings. The episode on Friday was the first since the border was reopened in May, two months after the mending of diplomatic ties between Spain and Morocco. That détente had followed a decision by Madrid to return to the North African contingent autonomy plan for Western Sahara – a former Spanish colony on the northwestern coast of Africa.
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of Spain condemned the attempted mass crossing, describing it as an attack on his “territorial integrity” and adding that Spanish security forces had worked with their Moroccan counterparts to fight “a well-organized, violent attack.”
At least six human rights organizations in both Morocco and Spain have been called for an inquiry. Amnesty International expressed its “deep concern” over the events, and the Spanish Commission for Refugees criticized what it called “indiscriminate use of violence to manage migration and control borders.”
Rights groups on the ground also indicated that the death toll was expected to rise. The Moroccan Association of Human Rights reported that 27 migrants had died, according to the group’s most recent count, but that figure could not be verified immediately.
“This is a catastrophe,” said Omar Naji, vice president of the rights association, one of the largest such non-governmental organizations in Morocco. “In the hours that followed the clashes, no medical help was provided. They were left on the ground for hours, “he said, referring to the migrants, and adding his voice to those calling for an inquiry.
A spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency told The New York Times that its officials did not currently have access to the injured, who were being treated in Moroccan hospitals. He added that the agency was deeply concerned by the number of victims.
The agency “calls on the international community, in line with the principle of responsibility sharing, to strengthen access to legal pathways to reduce the risk of such tragic events happening in the future,” the spokesman said.
In March, the day before Morocco and Spain ended their diplomatic dispute, there were a number of attempted mass crossings in Melilla, including one involving 2,500 people – the largest such attempt ever recorded.
José Bautista contributed reporting from Madrid.