Unanswered questions a year after migrant tragedy at Spanish enclave Melilla

by Lorraine Williamson
unanswered questions about missing migrants

June 24 marked 1 year since some 2,000 migrants stormed the border post at Melilla. A tragedy with dozens of deaths, migrants illegally deported from Spain and people whose deaths or whether they survived the storming is not clear. 

On this day in 2022, migrants from sub-Saharan countries stormed the border posts of the Spanish enclave. Although human rights organisations and the governments of Spain and Morocco cannot agree on the exact numbers, according to the organisations, around 40 people died. In addition, Spain is said to have illegally expelled 470 migrants and furthermore, 77 people are still missing. The organisations have filed a complaint with the Ministry of Justice in Spain and an independent investigation into the actions of Spanish border guards will be carried out. 

Spain and Morocco say they are not responsible for tragedy 

According to Amnesty International, both Spain and Morocco say they are not responsible for the tragedy and are even sabotaging some attempts to find out what actually happened. The governments of both Madrid and Rabat claim their border guards were attacked by armed migrants. Nearly fifty Guardia Civil officers and 140 members of the Moroccan border guard were injured. 

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What happened to missing migrants in Morocco? 

The Spanish news site EFE.com writes a year later that human rights organisations still have questions about how many people actually died. The numbers claimed by these organisations are contradicted by both the Moroccan and Spanish governments. Dozens of convicted migrants have also not received a fair trial, according to Amnesty. And furthermore, one of the key questions, “where are the missing and what about the bodies of people said to have died?” remains unanswered. 

Because answers are not forthcoming, some relatives of missing migrants travelled to the Moroccan city of Nador this year to identify their dead. A dozen relatives have now done this remotely. Yet it still remains unclear whether just under eighty migrants died or whether they survived the storm. In addition, it is unclear what happened to the bodies. A survivour tells RTVE.es: “I just want to be able to bury my brother.” 

Migrants choose alternative and dangerous routes to cross to Europe 

Since the storming on June 24, security at the infamous border post has been tightened. The even higher fences ensure that the local population cannot easily forget last year’s tragedy. However, migrants have since been looking for alternative routes to cross over to Europe. Many choose to cross the southern coasts of Morocco and Western Sahara by boat to the Canary Islands. This has proven to be a very dangerous route in the past. Others go back and try to make the crossing via Algeria and Tunisia. 

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