The deaths of 23 migrants trying to cross from Morocco into Spain must be investigated, the UN, Human Rights Watch, the African Union, and 50 Spanish and Moroccan human rights groups have said after footage was released appearing to show their lifeless bodies strewn by the border.
Last Thursday, around 2,000 people, mainly from Sudan and South Sudan, encountered border officials when they attempted to scale a 10-metre high border fence into the Spanish enclave of Melilla in North Africa.
Video shared on social media in the hours following the incident appears to show dozens of bodies, some motionless, strewn across the floor of a border control area. Officers can be seen beating some injured men as they lie helpless on the ground. Moroccan authorities initially claimed that the migrants died as a result of a stampede.
“The deaths of at least 23 African men at the Melilla-Morocco border on June 24, 2022 requires an independent, impartial investigation capable of determining what occurred and who bears responsibility for such loss of life,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement.
HRW has also seen and verified satellite imagery that appears to show Moroccan authorities attempting to organise hasty mass burials near the border.
“Satellite imagery collected on June 27, 2022 shows recent soil perturbation in the location of the freshly dug graves identified in the photographs verified by Human Rights Watch. Those observations were not visible on satellite imagery recorded on June 23, the day before the incident,” HRW said.
It added: “To this end, it is vitally important for the Moroccan authorities to make every effort to preserve the bodies in a dignified and appropriate manner to allow for autopsies and verification of cause of death. The authorities should do all they can to identify the dead and inform their families.”
Meanwhile, the chairman of the African Union, Moussa Faki Mahamat, has expressed his anger at the “degrading treatment of African migrants.”
“I express my deep shock and concern at the violent and degrading treatment of African migrants attempting to cross an international border from #Morocco into #Spain, with the ensuing violence leading to the deaths of at least 23 people and injuries to many more,” Mahamat wrote on Twitter. “I call for an immediate investigation into the matter and remind all countries of their obligations under international law to treat all migrants with dignity and to prioritize their safety and human rights, while refraining from the use of excessive force.”
The United Nations Committee on Migrant Workers (CMW) has also expressed its “grave concern and deep sadness” at the incident and called for Spain and Morocco to review its process for accepting asylum seekers.
“To avoid the repetition of such tragedies, the Committee also asked Morocco, Spain and the other EU States to expand the availability of pathways for safe and orderly migration, and take measures to guarantee and respect the right to seek and receive asylum,” CMW said in a statement.
On Monday, 50 human rights organisations across Spain and Morocco, including the Moroccan Association on Human Rights, co-signed a statement condemning the two countries for their roles in the incident.
“The 23 dead and hundreds injured… are a tragic symbol of European policies and the complicity of Morocco” the statement read.