Migrants in Morocco Are Sentenced in Attempt to Cross Into Spanish Enclave

PARIS — A judge in the northeastern Moroccan city of Nador sentenced 33 migrants to 11 months in prison on Tuesday and ordered them to pay small fines in connection with a mass attempt to cross into the Spanish enclave of Melilla last month, defense lawyers said.

The defendants were part of a group of 65 people, mostly from Sudan and South Sudan, who were prosecuted over the crossing attempt, during which at least 23 migrants died and scores of security officers were injured, according to Moroccan authorities.

The men were sentenced on charges including “violence against law enforcement officers” and “illegal entry.”

A defense lawyer, El Kbir Lemseguem, said after the sentencing that the prosecution had been marred by irregularities and that an appeal would be filed.

“According to the police statements, all 33 defendants supposedly admitted to their crimes,” Mr. Lemseguem said. “But all the statements had the same language; they were copy pasted; it was one same statement used for each defendant.”

The rest of the group is being prosecuted for more serious crimes, he said. Their next hearing is scheduled for July 27.

Many defendants “are young, and poor,” he added. “They’re allowed to aspire to a better life.”

Moroccan authorities have said that during the attempted crossing on June 24, at least 23 migrants fell to their deaths after trying to scale a high border fence. In the chaos, the authorities said, dozens of migrants and an estimated 140 Moroccan security officers were injured.

But the episode shone a harsh light on Moroccan authorities after disturbing images emerged of dozens of visibly injured men piled on top of one another along the barricade, surrounded by Moroccan security officers in riot gear.

Morocco has defended its response.

In several statements, the authorities have said that the clashes were provoked by migrants who stormed the border point with stones, sticks and bladed weapons, and that the deaths were caused by a stampede.

Local human rights activists, however, accused the security forces of using indiscriminate force and said that investigations into the events have been insufficient, adding that the death toll was higher than officially announced.

“In the hours that followed the clashes, no medical help was provided,” said Omar Naji, vice president of the Nador section of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights, one of the largest such non-governmental organizations in that country. “They were left on the ground for hours.”

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 National Council on Human Rights (CNDH), a state-funded group, last week released a preliminary report into the June incident that supported the official line that the migrants had probably died by suffocation. (Autopsies are yet to be performed.)

In the hours that followed the June episode, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of Spain said the Spanish security forces had worked with their Moroccan counterparts to fight off “a well-organized, violent assault.”

Several Moroccan and Spanish rights groups have called for an independent investigation. Camille Denis, a representative of a Morocco-based anti-racism group known by its French acronym, GADEM, said she feared that attempted crossings could fuel further stigmatization of Black migrants in border areas and across the country.

“We know that human rights violations in the border areas are frequent and alarming,” she said.

“But how did we manage to reach such a level of violence and above all, to deaths? Or not to assist people in danger?” she said. “We can only ask for these latest events not to lead to further stigmatization of all Black foreigners.”

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