Spanish government under pressure over 23 migrants who died near Melilla

by Lorraine Williamson
23 migrants died
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MADRID – In June, 1,700 migrants tried to enter the Spanish exclave of Melilla. At least 23 people died. Now there are new allegations against the Spanish authorities. 

The Spanish government is under pressure over the deadly incident at the Melilla border fence. On June 24, up to 1,700 mainly African migrants tried to break through the barrier around the Spanish exclave. At least 23 migrants died and hundreds were injured. 

23 migrants died and over 70 are still missing

Human rights activists say the death toll could rise as more than 70 migrants are still missing. A BBC documentary now contradicts the Spanish government’s statement in Madrid that there were no deaths on Spanish soil. 

Video footage from the day of the incident shows at least several lifeless bodies on the Spanish side of the border fence. However, according to the Spanish police, the mass panic only killed people in the “no man’s land” within the border installations. The images also show Moroccan officials at the fence bringing migrants from Spain to Morocco. An African man interviewed by the BBC says he was then knocked unconscious for hours by Moroccan police. 

Related post: Melilla, a “well solved” massacre according to the Spanish Prime Minister 

Following the BBC documentary, nine parties want a commission of inquiry to be set up. These include Unidas Podemos, which is part of the left-wing coalition government led by Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. 

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Prime Minister convinced of “appropriate” response 

The head of government assured Interior Minister Grande-Marlaska of his confidence. He reiterated that Spanish officials had responded “appropriately” and that they were not responsible for the deaths. 

At the beginning of the week, six Spanish MPs visited the border crossing in the so-called Barrio Chino. Following new images from the surveillance cameras, they returned with more questions. In addition, they received further information about the actions of the Guardia Civil. They had fired 86 tear gas canisters, 65 rubber bullets and 270 blanks.

“There is no doubt that the crowds that led to the deaths and serious injuries took place in an area under Spanish control,” Podemos MP Enrique Santiago said after returning from Melilla. It should also be clarified why the injured did not receive medical attention in the three hours that followed, in which lives could have been saved. The parliamentarians demand that after four months they can finally see the full images from the surveillance cameras.  

“Impeccable” police action 

Ana Vazquez, deputy of the conservative People’s Party (PP), described the deployment of the Spanish police officers as “impeccable”, pointing to the context that the police officers in number could not cope with the violent attack and had several wounded in their ranks. However, the PP accuses the socialist interior minister of lying and demands his immediate resignation. 

Government is waiting for two ongoing investigations 

The government is awaiting the two ongoing investigations of Parliament’s Ombudsman, Ángel Gabilondo, and the Attorney General. The ombudsman presented an interim report in mid-October. According to the Spanish police, she immediately returned 470 migrants, despite most of them coming from crisis countries such as Sudan and Chad. This gives them the right to apply for asylum as soon as they are on Spanish soil. However, the Spanish authorities previously spoke of 101 such “pushbacks”. Although 23 people died, 133 migrants eventually reached Melilla. Therefore, Gabilondo believes that Spanish and international law has not been complied with 

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