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Amnesty lashes Morocco, Spain over Melilla migrant ‘carnage’

#Amnesty #lashes #Morocco #Spain #Melilla #migrant #carnage

Amnesty International on Tuesday blasted as “carnage” the deaths of dozens of migrants trying to cross into Spain’s North African enclave Melilla, accusing Rabat and Madrid of seeking to cover up what happened. 

In the report on the June 24 incident, the London-based watchdog denounced both countries for an “excessive use of force”, saying their “abject failure” to provide the truth about what occurred “smacks of a cover-up”. 

According to Amnesty and independent experts at least 37 people lost their lives, but Morocco has given a toll of 23 dead. 

“At this dismal six-month anniversary, the Spanish and Moroccan authorities continue to deny any responsibility for the carnage at Melilla,” said AI secretary general Agnes Callamard in a statement accompanying the 66-page report. 

The report’s conclusions were roundly rejected by Spain’s interior ministry, which issued a statement saying it contained “false assertions.. that were extremely serious”. 

The toll is by far the worst recorded in years of attempts by migrants to cross into Spain’s two North African enclaves which have the European Union’s only land borders with Africa. 

“We are here today to report on massive killings, forced disappearances, acts of torture, discrimination and racism,” Callamard told reporters in Madrid. 

The tragedy occurred when “between 1,500 and 2,000 migrants, mostly Sudanese, attempted to cross the border”, prompting a confrontation with Moroccan and Spanish border forces “which lasted over two hours”, the report said. 

Melilla and its sister enclave of Ceuta have long been a magnet for those desperate to escape grinding poverty and hunger.

– ‘Mass killings, forced disappearances’ –

Both governments have insisted the migrants were to blame, with Morocco saying some died after falling while trying to scramble over the fence, while others suffocated as people panicked and a stampede started. 

Amnesty researchers analysed footage and satellite images and spoke to numerous migrants who were at the scene, concluding the security forces had used excessive violence. 

“The methods used by Moroccan and Spanish authorities at the border crossing known as ‘Barrio Chino’ contributed to the deaths of at least 37 people and the injuries of dozens more,” it said. 

“As the (migrants) drew close, police pelted them with stones, firing tear gas at them in enclosed spaces. Many of the injured continued to be beaten and kicked as they lay on the ground, semi-conscious, unresponsive, or struggling for breath.”

Some 77 migrants were still missing, it added. 

“Some of the actions by Spanish and Moroccan officials… may amount to breaches of the right to be free from torture and other ill-treatment,” Amnesty said. 

It pointed to actions including “beating people who were already restrained or unresponsive due to injury, denying emergency medical assistance to those injured, repeated use of tear gas against people who have no way of escape and are in a confined space”.

– Lack of accountability ‘alarming’ –

In October, UN-appointed independent experts said at least 37 people died, describing the lack of accountability from both Morocco and Spain as “alarming”. 

Investigations published in November by the BBC and European media consortium Lighthouse Reports denounced brutality by Moroccan forces and also questioned Spanish actions. 

They said at least one migrant died on Spanish territory — a fact repeatedly denied by Spain’s interior minister. 

Spain’s ombudsman and its public prosecutor are also probing the tragedy.

In a letter sent on Friday to several NGOs and seen by AFP, the ombudsman said the ministry’s explanations had “not been sufficient”.

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