Several dozen African migrants protested on Tuesday 28 June outside the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Rabat, Morocco. They denounce the inhumane treatment inflicted on them by the Moroccan police. This follows the drama that took place in Melilla last Friday when at least 23 sub-Saharan migrants died in clashes with police while trying to cross the border.
This is the first time that migrants have attempted such a collective incursion in force and violence. Almost 2,000 migrants tried to enter Melilla, one of the two Spanish enclaves in Morocco. They were armed with sticks, iron bars and stones on Friday 24 June, hurling themselves against the metal barriers at the border of the Spanish enclave of Melilla, which are six metres high in places. The response of the Moroccan security forces was spontaneous: tear gas, rubber bullets, baton blows, everything was there to impose order. Clashes broke out. At least 23 migrants, mostly Sudanese, died and 140 police officers were injured, according to the Moroccan authorities.
Migrants’ protests in Rabat
Faced with such a bloody outcome, migrants demonstrated on Tuesday against the inhumane treatment they receive at the hands of Moroccan security agents. “We went to the city of Nador and they beat us badly. They killed our friends and family. The Moroccan government said there were 23 dead, but we know there are more than 70, it is inhuman. We request that there is no discrimination between migrants,” says Omar, a Sudanese migrant, reported by Africanews.
He added: “Some of the incidents were not filmed, there are many dead among us, and at the moment many young people are in prison, and several others seriously injured. We ask the human rights associations to intervene to treat the injured, and at the same time we ask them to evacuate us immediately to safe countries, because we do not feel safe here.
The UN and the African Union react
In view of the seriousness of the events, several organisations such as the UN denounced the “excessive use of force” against migrants. “This is unacceptable” and this tragedy “must be investigated”, said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric on Tuesday 28 June at his daily press briefing. It states that the excessive use of force has been seen by the Organisation “on both sides of the border”.
“I want to say how shocked we were by the images of the violence seen at the Moroccan-Spanish border in North Africa this weekend, which resulted in the deaths of dozens of human beings, asylum seekers, migrants”, he said. He therefore insisted: “People who migrate have human rights and these must be respected and we see them too often violated. Accordingly, the UN calls on both countries to ensure “an effective and independent investigation”.
In addition, the head of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, denounced the “violent and degrading treatment of African migrants” and called for an investigation. This demand was also supported in Morocco by the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH), which demands a “serious and transparent investigation to determine the circumstances of this very heavy death toll”, which shows that “the migration policies followed are deadly with borders and barriers that kill”.
The most deadly of all
Although this is not the first time that sub-Saharan migrants have tried to cross the border at Melilla, it is unfortunately the first time that such a forced crossing has resulted in such a high death toll. Last March, there were already several attempts to cross the border, where some 500 migrants out of a total of 2,500 managed to cross. On the night of 16-17 May 2021, approximately 8,000 to 9,000 sub-Saharan migrants crossed the border between Morocco and Ceuta. They got there by swimming or walking with all the risks involved. At least two people were killed.
Rabat-Madrid relations normalised
And if the Moroccan police forces are working with such zeal today, it is because Rabat and Madrid managed to normalise their relationship in mid-March after a year-long diplomatic row. Morocco and Spain have reopened their borders and resumed their cooperation following a misunderstanding that arose in the aftermath of the reception in Spain of the leader of the Sahrawi independence movement of the Polisario Front, Brahim Ghali, in April 2021, for treatment of Covid-19.
Moreover, the head of the Spanish government, Pedro Sanchez, very early on this weekend praised the work of the Moroccan security forces by denouncing an “attack on the territorial integrity” of Spain. “The Moroccan security forces had worked in coordination with the (Spanish) security forces to repel this violent assault that we witnessed. “If anyone is responsible for everything that has happened at the border, it is the mafias involved in human trafficking,” he added. One would have said that this drama is the symbol of the policy of externalisation of borders.