While the U.S. is still struggling to deal with a surge of unaccompanied child immigrants from Central America at its southern border, Europe is also dealing with a heartbreaking immigration crisis.
One particular problem spot is Morocco’s border with the tiny Spanish enclave Melilla on the Mediterranean coast, where migrants attempting to flee poverty or persecution regularly face abuse from Spanish and Moroccan authorities, Human Rights Watch said Monday.
Morocco has estimated there are between 25,000 and 40,000 such migrants in the country. Many of them try to reach European territory by either climbing over three six-meter-high razor-wire fences separating Morocco from the Spanish enclave Melilla or by taking a raft or boat to Melilla.
Last week, hundreds of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa attempted to scale the three fences, with 1,300 people making the attempt on Aug. 12-13 alone, according to HRW.
Video footage appears to show uniformed officers belonging to Spain’s Guardia Civil paramilitary national police force beating migrants with batons as they scaled the middle fence, causing one to fall off. A Spanish judge recently affirmed the entire triple fence is in Spanish territory.
While three migrants were reportedly transported to Spanish hospitals Aug. 13, journalists at the scene claimed other injured migrants were left on the ground without medical attention for hours after they fell off the fence.
The video also allegedly shows evidence of Guardia Civil officers marching two migrants from the Spanish side of the border back to the Moroccan side, which journalists present also confirmed. That would constitute a violation of Spanish law requiring Guardia Civil officers to bring migrants caught entering Spain to a police station for identification and the beginning of a deportation process that lets the migrants seek international protection, reported HRW.
You can watch the video here:
Over the two-day period of Aug. 12-13, Guardia Civil officers summarily returned 60 migrants to Morocco, and the fate of the hundreds of others was not known, according to HRW, citing reporting by El Diario.
The migrants used makeshift ladders to scale the fence and threw rocks at police, the Associated Press reported Aug. 12, citing a Spanish Interior Ministry statement. Some stayed on top of the fence for several hours, although only 30 of 700 migrants made it across the fences that day, according to the Associated Press.
HRW is calling for Spain to stop summary returns of migrants to Morocco and investigate evidence that Guardia Civil officers have beaten migrants at the fence. “Spain’s right to secure its borders doesn’t give it carte blanche to abuse migrants,” said Benjamin Ward, deputy director of the Europe and Central Asia Division at Human Rights Watch. “The government in Madrid and local authorities in Melilla need to stop these illegal pushbacks and take action against any Guardia Civil officers who use excessive force against migrants.”
Even before migrants attempt to cross into Melilla, they face abuse in Morocco, which has coordinated with the EU on border security and management since the 1990s. Moroccan police allegedly raid crude migrant campsites near the borders with Algeria and Melilla, burning shelters, beating occupants, and removing them from the country without due process, according to a February HRW report.
Of 67 sub-Saharan migrants interviewed by HRW for the report, 42 recounted frequent police raids allegedly involving arrests without charges, destruction of shelters, and theft of property by authorities. And 37 of the 67 migrants claimed Moroccan authorities violated national and international law by expelling them at the border with Algeria without considering their documentation, status as refugees or asylum-seekers, or granting them the right to an interpreter and lawyer.
Those interviews also revealed alleged abuses by Spain’s Guardia Civil officers. “The Guardia Civil summarily removed migrants who entered Melilla and handed them over to Moroccan border patrols at the Melilla-Morocco border, at which point the Moroccan authorities beat the border crossers, including children,” the February HRW report said.
Several thousand migrants make their tent cities on the side of a mountain overlooking Melilla, reports RT. On multiple days each week, migrants rush down Gurugu Mountain in waves to climb the fence.
One migrant named Idriss had this to say to RT about raids on the mountain regularly carried out by Moroccan authorities:
Almost every day, at dawn, the Moroccan soldiers leave their base at the foot of Gurugu, come to our camp and destroy everything. They pull down the tents, set fire to them, throw away the food, steal the little money we have, our phones. And if they can catch anyone then they arrest him and beat him, and then take him to Rabat [the capital]. We fall over the cliffs, many of us fracture arms and legs, we are hurt and we have no medicine to treat us. Over the years we have stopped counting the dead.
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