Seconds after Mohamed stepped on to Spanish soil, he turned around to see how his friends had fared along the metres-high chain link fence that slices off the Spanish enclave of Melilla from Marruecos.
"Fue horrible,” said the 20-year-old from Sudan. “It was a bloodbath; many of them appeared dead and many were injured.”
Moroccan state TV dicho 23 Fueron asesinados as about 2,000 gente, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, attempted to cross into one of the EU’s two land borders with Africa last Friday.
NGOs on the ground say the number of deaths could be higher. “We’ve confirmed 37 deaths in the Melilla tragedy,” Helena Maleno Garzón of Walking Borders dijo a principios de esta semana.
Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, described the mass crossing as a “violent assault” and “an attack on the territorial integrity of Spain”. He blamed the “mafias that traffic in human beings”.
Mohamed, who was one of 133 who managed to cross into Spain, denied this. “There are no mafias, we don’t have money to pay them. We organise ourselves," he told broadcaster RTVE.
He left his home country three years ago, crossing five African countries with the aim of making it to Europe. He has finally arrived in the EU, but the trauma has left him unable to sleep. “We don’t know who died among our friends – we don’t know who is injured, alive or dead," él dijo.
In the wake of the tragedy, más que 50 groups called for an investigation. Among them was a group of about 50 migrants and refugees who had crossed into Melilla in recent months.
“Why is Pedro Sánchez saying that we’re mafias?” a young man called Huséin told El País. “We didn’t pay anything … we just used our brains and came up with a good plan because we were suffering a lot.”
A significant number of those who attempted to cross last week were asylum seekers fleeing conflict in Sudan, said the Spanish Commission for Refugees, suggesting that the violence had stopped people who were eligible for international protection from reaching Spanish soil.
Images of what was the deadliest day on the border in recent memory sparked consternation. “Video and photographs show bodies strewn on the ground in pools of blood, Moroccan security forces kicking and beating people, and Spanish Guardia Civil launching teargas at men clinging to fences,” said Judith Sunderland of Human Rights Watch.
On Tuesday public prosecutors in Spain said they had opened an investigation into the deaths.
Across the border, Moroccan officials began a crackdown, procesando 65 people who had taken part in the crossing over accusations of igniting fires, attacking security forces and facilitating illegal border crossings, according to Reuters. Hundreds of migrants were also shuttled away from the border and dropped at different points in Morocco’s interior.
The Moroccan Association of Human Rights accused officials in Morocco of trying to cover up the deaths, noting that six days after the tragedy, not one autopsy had been carried out and there had been no efforts to identify those who were killed.
On Wednesday António Guterres, el secretario general de la ONU, added his voice to concerns about the events at the border. “I am shocked by the violence on the Nador-Melilla border on Friday which resulted in the deaths of dozens of migrants and asylum seekers," he wrote on Twitter. “The use of excessive force is unacceptable, and the human rights and dignity of people on the move must be prioritized by countries.”
A principios de semana, the UN rights office told reporters that it 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.”
The deadly group crossing was the first since Spain and Morocco patched up relations after a year-long dispute centred on Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony annexed by Morocco in 1975.
Sunderland said the tragedy underscored the need for a “serious reset” on the relationship between Spain and Morocco.
Ella añadió: “More broadly, unless there is a rethinking of EU migration policies which are based right now on deterrence, externalisation and outsourcing to third countries like Morocco, Libya and Turkey, it is almost inevitable this will happen again.”