Human Rights Groups Hold Unified Protests Across Spain in Condemnation of Melilla Massacre

Sarah Babiker
A man trying to jump the border fence in the Spanish colonial enclave of Melilla in Morocco. Photo: Javier Bernardo.A week after the death of at least 37 people in Melilla, activists and groups take to the streets to support the survivors of the border violence and demand accountability.

In the afternoon of Friday, July 1, protests were held in more than 60 cities and towns in Spain, condemning the massacre of migrants on June 24 at the border between Spain and Morocco, at the border fence of Spanish colonial enclave of Melilla. This united protest was organized by civil society and migrant groups in Madrid. The statement published by the organizers, which has the support of more than 5,400 people and more than 900 organizations, reads: “Migration policies, which have manifested as police brutality and border militarization, have caused the death of at least 37 migrants and refugees. The bodies are being buried in Nador without performing autopsies for a possible future investigation or without identifying the deceased and informing their families. Moreover, more than 300 people have been precariously hospitalized at the El Hassani hospital in Nador.”

“The objective of the demonstrations is to honor the victims, to denounce what happened and above all, to listen to the survivors, so that they can answer to what is being said about them,” stated Mar, a member of the Melilla-based activist group Solidary Wheels, who is in contact with the migrants who managed to cross the border and are now at the immigrant detention center (CETI) in Melilla. “It is necessary to stop infantilizing migrants and to listen to them tell their stories as independent people… migrants have a right to explain themselves,” Mar added. The manifesto of the protests explains that most of the 133 survivors who managed to cross into Melilla came from Sudan and Chad.

The message of the protests called for in Melilla was reproduced throughout Spain via a network of anti-racist groups and migrant movements, which had already organized protests last Sunday, June 26, in various cities.

Belinda Ntutumu, of the migrant organization Regularización Ya based in Murcia, stated that mass demonstrations in Murcia will be held until Sunday, July 3, given the fact that a large part of the local African community works in the fields and could not take part in the Friday protests. She explained how the activist collectives are expressing their outrage. “Regularización Ya is already working out a plan to respond to what has happened,” she said. “But this is no longer just about condemnation and making visible a tragedy turned massacre; rather, this is about reflecting on what is going to happen with all of this. Hence the importance of creating a united demonstration at the nationwide level.”

Current situation in Melilla

The protest were scheduled for Friday to ensure that the survivors of the massacre who are in Melilla could attend, since they have been isolated in the Temporary Immigrant Stay Center (CETI) under the pretext of keeping them in quarantine. Thus, after a long journey, the harshness of the road, the exploitation that many have experienced while crossing the continent, the loss of their friends and contact with their families, and the long waits on the other side of the border to cross, these people have now been placed in isolation. This was reported by Javier Moreno, a member of the Jesuit Migrant Service (SJM) team.

“This situation has generated a lot of anguish,” Moreno said. “They are people who come with PTSD, basically because of the conflict, but also because they were survivors of a massacre. All these factors are not exactly relieved by a situation of isolation.” The stress and uncertainty levels have lessened now, after they have been able to move about outside the CETI, explained Moreno.

Mar described the quarantine as an “illegal detention” because they were put in isolation even though they had been tested for COVID-19. After leaving isolation, some participated in a rally outside the CETI last Wednesday, June 29. It was a space where they could express sadness and anger at the way in which they have been treated. “The migrants said: ‘how are we going to feel safe in Spain, in the country where I have come to request protection, if it says that the treatment they have given us in Morocco is the correct treatment?’,” expressed Mar.

She also explained that what happened in Melilla is, according to the survivors, only the last stretch of a stay in Morocco where there are continuous acts of racism and dehumanization. “We know little about their life in Morocco,” she said. “One of the migrants commented that even if they had money the supermarkets don’t even sell them food.”

However, parallel to the racism experienced by migrants in Morocco, Moreno believes that Moroccan society has a certain affinity towards Sudanese people in transit, since they speak Arabic and also share the same religion. For example, people in Rabat also joined the protests, with a demonstration in solidarity with the victims.

The final objective of these migrants is not Spain; most of them are in transit to other European countries where they have family and support networks. Once they arrive in Melilla, there is concern for the people who have stayed on the other side, explains Moreno. Just like Mar, Moreno points out that the people who are at the immigrant detention center are the first to organize themselves and denounce the abuse and demand answers. The self-organization of migrants has recently been noticed by those in Melilla. A few weeks ago there was a protest by Sudanese migrants who denounced harsh treatment and aggression by the private security forces. This “illustrates the level of politicization and awareness of the rights that these—mostly Sudanese—migrants have,” Moreno explained. “Their civic education draws a lot of attention.” So much so that they have managed to improve the conditions at the CETI, since it is a space where there is “a lot of private guards and little mediation and interpreter services.”

At the June 29 rally outside the CETI, the survivors reproduced images of the bodies lying on the ground. “Some of them also told me: nobody has sent us here, nobody is telling us what we have to do. We know how to organize ourselves,” stated Mar. “We sometimes make the mistake of trying to speak for them or trying to represent them.”

The situation of those who stayed on the other side of the border, is of particular concern, given the opacity with which the Moroccan government has acted: “The information blackout is total,” explained Mar. “Our colleagues who were there a few days ago say that they were not even allowed to go near the hospital. We have very little information.”

Demands of the civil society

Denunciation of the Melilla massacre was almost immediate. Through a statement published within hours after the massacre, the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH)—which also broadcast videos showing the brutality of the security forces of both countries— pointed out that the migratory policy’s security measures was the enabling framework for the massacre and accused Morocco of being complicit. AMDH also warned of the deadly nature of security cooperation between Spain and Morocco. Such bilateral cooperation, which resumed in March, has resulted in persecution and violence and, ultimately, in the intensification of the violation of human rights of the migrants.

The manifesto of the protest also asks for attention to the needs of migrants and demands the authorities of both countries to express their condolences to the families of the victims, as well as commitment of the African countries, and wants investigations to be undertaken by both Morocco and Spain. On Wednesday, June 29, the Spanish Attorney General’s Office announced that it would begin an investigation. It also requested the Prime Minister and the Minister of the Interior of Spain to appear before the Attorney General, but this has been unsuccessful. The United NationsAmnesty International and other organizations have pointed to the responsibility of both governments.

“It is not just about denouncing what happened, it is also important to know what is going to be done now,” explained Ntutumu. One of the aims of the protests is to reach “the president, Minister Marlaska, Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares, the Hispanic-Moroccan Migration group and the spokesmen for the Interior Commission, as well as congressmen and senators from Melilla and Ceuta.”

The ILP regularization platform has also proposed other options. “A group has been created in order to respond, not only at the national level, but also at the international level, and to seek international responsibilities,” it announced. “International organizations must say something about what has happened and there has to be accountability: we need to know where the migrants have died, in Moroccan territory, or in Spanish territory. And we have to know if what the government said will have consequences.” ILP wants the United Nations to investigate in situ.

In Melilla, civil society organizations have turned to the Ombudsman once more to file a complaint, “not only regarding the deaths and the violence, but also specifically about the issue of the so-called quarantine, and the fast deportations,” explained Mar, given that there are videos showing that apart from Spanish forces expelling migrants, there have been incursions by the Moroccan gendarmerie into Spanish territory to take back migrants who had already crossed the border. Mar stated that Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s statements that insisted on qualifying the jump as a violent act have resulted in legitimizing the normalization of violence by the armed forces. “That is how we felt when in March we documented three deportations and requested an investigation from the ombudsman,” she expressed. “We are still waiting. There is frustration in knowing that surely, in the end, everything will come to nothing and this can end up being a Tarajal 2.0.”

Translation by Orinoco Tribune

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