UN urges independent investigation of Spain-Morocco migrant deaths

UN urges independent investigation of Spain-Morocco migrant deaths
23 migrants were killed last week in Morocco as they attempted to cross the border into the Spanish enclave of Melilla, which the UN called the 'highest number of deaths in a single incident' over years of migrant crossings between the countries.
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At least 23 people died in the incident last week, when migrants attempted to cross into the Spanish enclave of Melilla from Morocco [Getty]

The United Nations on Tuesday called for an independent investigation into the deaths of at least 23 people after about 2,000 migrants tried to cross from Morocco into Spain last week.

The UN rights office voiced alarm at the deaths and dozens of injuries after migrants tried to storm the heavily fortified border between the Moroccan region of Nador and the Spanish enclave of Melilla on Friday.

"We call on the two countries to ensure an effective and independent investigation is held as a first step towards establishing the circumstances of the deaths and injuries," the office's spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told reporters in Geneva.

She stressed the need to determine "any possible responsibilities" and urged the two countries to ensure accountability as appropriate.

At least 23 migrants died and 76 others were injured, according to the rights office. Moroccan authorities said 140 police officers were also wounded in the ensuing violence.

"This is the highest recorded number of deaths in a single incident over many years of migrants attempting to cross from Morocco to Europe via the Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta," Shamdasani said.

While it remained unclear how the deaths had occurred, she said the rights office had received reports of "migrants beaten with batons, kicked, shoved, and attacked with stones by Moroccan officials as they tried to scale the barbed-wire fence, some six to 10 metres high, separating Morocco from Melilla".

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"We call on Morocco and Spain to ensure respect for the human rights of migrants at their joint border and, in particular, that their border officers refrain from any use of excessive force against migrants," she said.

Shamdasani also called on the two countries to "take to all necessary steps alongside the European Union, the African Union, and other relevant international and regional actors to ensure human rights-based border governance measures are in place".

"These include access to safe migration pathways, access to individualised assessments, and protection from collective expulsions and from refoulement, as well as from arbitrary arrest and detention."

The migrant rush in Melilla came after Madrid and Rabat normalised their diplomatic relations following an almost year-long crisis centred on the disputed Western Sahara territory.

For Spain, the main objective of the diplomatic thaw was to ensure Morocco's cooperation in controlling illegal immigration.

Melilla and Ceuta are the only land borders the European Union shares with Africa.