Melilla massacre: Migrants share testimonies of an international human trafficking ring
A military camp, authoritarian rules, and abusive human traffickers: New details revealed through migrants' testimonies arrested on the day of the "Melilla massacre" when at least 23 migrants were killed and dozens injured by Moroccan security forces during their attempt to cross from Morocco's Nador to the Spain-controlled enclave of Melilla.
While the Moroccan-Spanish probe into the killing of migrants on the borders is still in its early stages, Rabat's authorities have already started prosecuting 64 migrants arrested during the massacre, all facing heavy charges that range from abuse of public officials to human trafficking.
On Friday, the Spanish news agency EFE published a summary of the Moroccan official document of the migrant's testimonies on the events of "Black Friday", June 24.
From Sudan to Morocco: a journey of despair
Thirteen of those prosecuted before the Nador Court of Appeal - nine Sudanese, two South Sudanese and two Chadians - explain how their journey escaping their countries struggles for a better life.
Before reaching the forests of Nador, the sub-Saharan migrants crossed thousands of kilometres from Sudan, a conflict-torn country, through two routes: one through Libya and Algeria, and the other through Chad, Niger, Mali and Algeria.
Migrants paid between US$50 dollars and US$70 to cross the Sudanese-Libyan borders. The crossing prices increased up to US$500 on the Algerian-Moroccan borders.
The Moroccan official transcripts of the testimonies focus mainly on the network that operates on the Algerian-Moroccan borders.
Led by a corpulent and tattooed 35-year-old Malian named "Boss", the network on the Algerian-Moroccan borders was the main focus of the Moroccan official transcripts.
At the "Boss's" farm in the Algerian city of Magniya, 10 kilometres from the Moroccan border, the migrants joined hundreds of others waiting to pass to the kingdom.
They crossed the borders with Morocco in groups of 30 to 40 people, taking advantage of the changing of the guards on the borders.
In the case of a 20-year-old Chadian and a 19-year-old Sudanese, they say they have passed through tunnels that connect both sides of the border.
According to EFE, many of the migrants agree that the coordination and communication between the different members of the "Boss" network were managed through messaging applications and a closed Facebook group, where they decided how and when to cross the Melilla fence.
Upon arriving in Morocco, an 18-year-old Sudanese migrant recounts, they were received by a Moroccan and two Sudanese, who took them to the city of Oujda, close to the border, from where they were later transferred in several cars to Berkan, then to Nador, the closest city to Melilla fences.
In Nador, they met another "Boss-like" character: a chief of the camps in the mountains named Ahmed
As described by the migrants, Ahmed is a 35-year-old Sudanese who managed the camps in Nador commanding another dozen leaders of subgroups of migrants, each one made up of fifty members.
"He wore a mask to distinguish himself from the rest of the commanders of the groups who wore scarves. They were in charge of training the migrants," says the transcript of a Sudanese's statement.
The subgroups had different functions, such as monitoring the forests in case Moroccan agents appeared, managing problems between the migrants or looking for food.
Migrants had to pay 20 dirhams (about 2 dollars) for each meal, money they got by begging.
"If someone broke the rules, they were punished," according to the testimony of a Sudanese migrant shared by EFE.
Upon reaching the mountain, the leader and his "helpers," took away the migrants’ documents and cell phones, and then selected some members to be trained on how to use weapons such as stones, sticks, and knives, stated Moroccan official testimony document.
Black Friday: the day of the massacre
On Friday, July 24, around 2,000 migrants stormed the borders separating Nador city and Melilla.
Videos shared on social media showed hundreds of migrants, carrying sticks and hooks heading to the fences separating the two cities.
According to Morocco's official statements, about 500 migrants crossed to Melilla using "weapons" to cut the fences.
Rabat has also said that about 140 Moroccan forces were injured during "the clashes" in which 23 migrants "died". The Spanish NGOs has placed the number of dead at 37.
The published Moroccan official document does not mention the injuries and deaths of the migrants. However, it does state the testimonies of four policemen saying they were beaten by migrants who used sticks and stones to fight their way through the fences.
Moroccan security forces have confiscated 640 wooden sticks, 13 metal hooks fixed on wooden sticks, three medium-sized knives, a large hammer, a chain hooked to a padlock and a metal bar, according to a police report shared by EFE.
Following the disclosed information, Moroccan authorities are expected to coordinate with Interpol and Facebook social network where they are supposedly organised, added to another Moroccan police report shared by EFE.
Moroccan officials have so far remained silent and merely share information on the massacre through the Spanish media, but avoiding any press statements on the killing of at least 23 migrants.
Spain and Morocco have come under fire since the horrendous videos of handcuffed bleeding migrants piled over their peers’ corpses surfaced on the internet.
In March, Madrid endorsed Morocco's autonomy plan in Western Sahara ending its one-year-long diplomatic conflict with Rabat. A conflict that was always fuelled by Spain's "neutrality" on a dispute Rabat considers its first national cause.
The two countries have only recently in the past few months heralded a new stage of strong cooperation, centreing on migration.
In a recent interview with El Pais, Pedro Sanchez, Spain's prime minister, said that "Morocco's government is the one that should answer the questions on the respect of human rights" on the day of the massacre.
Sanchez added that he did not see the videos of the events when he said previously that Morocco has "well resolved" the situation.