Spanish, Moroccan border guards 'responsible' for Melilla migrant 'massacre'

Spanish, Moroccan border guards 'responsible' for Melilla migrant 'massacre'
An investigation by BBC Africa Eye highlighted the role played by Moroccan and Spanish border guards during the tragedy at Melilla on 24 June, and accused them of having a hand in the deaths of at least 24 migrants.
3 min read
01 November, 2022
The Spanish enclave of Melilla is one of Europe's only land borders in Africa [Getty/file photo]

Guards on the Morocco-Spanish border were partly responsible for the deaths of at least 24 migrants trying to cross on 24 June, a BBC Africa Eye investigation has found.

The migrants were attempting to reach the Spanish enclave of Melilla, one of Europe’s only land borders on the African continent, which is surrounded by Moroccan territory. 

The investigation found footage showing security forces viciously beating migrants, effectively trapping them in a courtyard and sending some of them back from the Spanish enclave to Morocco. When a fence fell during the incident, dozens died.

It was the deadliest day at the border between the two countries since a recent spike in migrants trying to seek asylum in Europe via the crossing. 

On 24 June, a group of around 2,000 migrants was allowed by security forces to reach the border before being set upon by the Moroccan police, according to one of the survivors.

"If they wanted to stop us, they would have stopped us before we came to the wall," said Yusuf Abu Baida, who has since reached Spain. 

Instead, the migrants were forcefully herded into a corner and surrounded, leaving them to desperately try and climb over a rickety fence that soon broke under their weight. 

Those that managed to cross over the fence were trapped in a courtyard, which became increasingly crowded. Survivors claim that police chose not to evacuate them from the courtyard and instead continued to beat them, allegedly with the aim of injuring them. 

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Some of those who managed to cross over into Spain were detained by police who prevented them from applying for asylum and taken back by Moroccan police.

Around 300 people were escorted to Morocco this way, according to a Spanish journalist who captured footage from the Spanish side of the border. 

On another occasion in May 2021, a BBC report revealed that thousands of migrants were allowed to cross the border by Moroccan security without being stopped. 

At the end of that year, a diplomatic row ensued between Spain and Morocco, and Rabat argued that it needed more funds to stop migrants from crossing the border. A new border control agreement was signed in April 2022, and human rights groups say Morocco's response to migrants changed following this agreement. 

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The EU signed a new partnership agreement with Morocco a few months after the incident, and in August agreed to pay Rabat 5 million euros for the next five years, according to the investigation. 

The Spanish government insisted that the migrants were treated according to Spanish law, and denied that migrants were moved back from Spain to Morocco. The Moroccan government did not comment on the allegations, according to the BBC. Spain has previously claimed that border guards were attacked and acted in self-defence.

Since the tragedy, Morocco has sentenced dozens of migrants to prison terms on charges including illegal entry and belonging to criminal gangs.