Moroccan authorities accused of trying to cover up Melilla deaths

There are growing calls for an investigation into the deaths of up to 37 people who died trying to scale a fence to enter Melilla, Spain’s enclave in north Africa.

About 2,000 people stormed the heavily fortified border between the Moroccan region of Nador and the Spanish enclave on Friday. The Moroccan authorities say 23 people died and 140 police were injured during the attempt, while several NGOs say the number of dead is 37.

“I call for an immediate investigation into the matter and remind all countries of their obligations under international law to treat all migrants with dignity and to prioritise their safety and human rights, while refraining from the use of excessive force,” said Moussa Faki Mahamat, the head of the African Union Commission.

“I express my deep shock and concern at the violent and degrading treatment of African migrants attempting to cross an international border from Morocco into Spain.”

There is concern that the Moroccans have already dug graves for the dead and apparently plan to bury them without investigating the cause of death or trying to identify the victims. The Moroccan human rights association described as “scandalous” the authorities’ plan to bury the dead “without investigating, autopsy and identity in order to cover up this disaster”.

Jude Sunderland, of Human Rights Watch, said: “It is shocking that Moroccan authorities are reportedly preparing to hastily bury the men who died. They should spare no effort to identify the bodies and to preserve them in a dignified and appropriate way to allow for autopsies and verification of cause of death. This is crucial to ensure a full investigation into what happened. It is also incumbent on Morocco to organise transfer of the deceased to their families for burials in accordance with their wishes.”

Sunderland added: “These were horrifying deaths, the scenes from Melilla are downright dystopian, exemplifying everything that is unconscionable about Spain and the EU’s approach to migrants and refugees, particularly if they are Black or brown.”

Spain’s president, Pedro Sánchez, has been criticised for failing to condemn the Moroccan police’s violent response to the attempted incursion, preferring to lay the blame at the door of “the international mafias who organise these violent attacks”.

Various videos show the police beating people lying on the ground and throwing stones at others attempting to climb the fence.

“I will never cease to express my support for the civil guard and the police,” Sánchez said. “I would also like to thank the Moroccan gendarmerie for their work. Morocco also fights and suffers from this violence.”

Íñigo Errejón, the leader of the Mas País party, said “it’s horrible that the government is congratulating the Moroccan police.”

“The president’s words make me ashamed to be a citizen of this country,” said Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona. “I’m surprised by the coldness, lack of compassion and empathy shown towards the victims.”

The People’s party, Spain’s main opposition party, and Sánchez’s leftwing coalition partner Podemos have called on the government to investigate the deaths, while the Jesuits have denounced the “lack of humanitarian assistance and serious human rights violations”.

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