Europe Killing Migrants

by E.J., Migration-Control Editorial Team
Last Updated 03.08.22

Title Picture see Twitter Post by AMDH Nador as published by Guardian
The Video shared online shows dozens of people packed into an area next to the border fence – some bleeding and many lying motionless – as Moroccan forces in riot gear watched over them in the aftermath of the crossing.

Quotes, and What Happened

Ayub Abdellah, refugee from Sudan:
„The casualties were heavy, many young people died. We will not repeat such violent penetration. Everyone can think what they want, but many young people are against such violence as in Melilla. Another violent storm is out of the question. But we will reach our goal at any cost. We will still go to Europe, whatever the cost.“

Mohamed Ismail Abdullah, refugee from Sudan:
„What happened in Melilla has led to people accusing us of being a mafia. This is not true, we have no organization. We here are just migrants. And it’s well known that people come here and try to cross the border in some way.“

See the video by Benjamin Eckert in Der Spiegel.

Pedro Sánches, Prime Minister or Spain:
Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Spain’s prime minister described the crossing of the border as a “violent assault” and “an attack on the territorial integrity of Spain”. He painted the picture of “mafias that traffic in human beings”.

Mohamed, who together with 132 others managed to cross the border to Spain, denied this. “There are no mafias, we don’t have money to pay them. We organise ourselves.” 

Why is Pedro Sánchez saying that we’re mafias?” questions a young man called Huséin. We didn’t pay anything … we just used our brains and came up with a good plan because we were suffering a lot.

António Guterres, UN secretary general:
„I am shocked by the violence on the Nador-Melilla border on Friday which resulted in the deaths of dozens of migrants and asylum seekers. The use of excessive force is unacceptable, and the human rights and dignity of people on the move must be prioritized by countries.“

Judith Sunderland, Human Rights Watch:
„Unless there is a rethinking of EU migration policies which are based right now on deterrence, externalisation and outsourcing to third countries like Morocco, Libya and Turkey, it is almost inevitable this will happen again.“

What Happened

„About 2,000 people approached Melilla at dawn on Friday 24 June 2022 and more than 500 managed to enter a border control area after cutting a fence with shears, the Spanish government’s local delegation said in a statement. Moroccan officials said late on Friday that 13 people had died of injuries sustained in the incursion, in addition to five who were confirmed dead earlier in the day. On Saturday night [25 June] the toll was raised to 23 after a further five deaths. “Some fell from the top of the barrier [separating the two sides]”, a Moroccan official said.“ (The Guardian, 25.06.22)

„Moroccan state TV said 23 were killed as about 2,000 people, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, attempted to cross into one of the EU’s two land borders with Africa [24 June]. NGOs on the ground explain the number of deaths could be higher. “We’ve confirmed 37 deaths in the Melilla tragedy”, Helena Maleno Garzón of Walking Borders said earlier this week.“ (The Guardian, 30.06.22)

133 managed to cross into Spain. A significant number of those who attempted to cross the border were asylum seekers fleeing conflict in Sudan, said the Spanish Commission for Refugees, suggesting that the violence had stopped people who were eligible for international protection from reaching Spanish soil. (The Guardian, 26.06.22)

„Images of what was the deadliest day on the border in recent memory sparked consternation. “Video and photographs show bodies strewn on the ground in pools of blood, Moroccan security forces kicking and beating people, and Spanish Guardia Civil launching teargas at men clinging to fences,” said Judith Sunderland of Human Rights Watch.“ (The Guardian, 30.06.22)

„“They were left there without help for hours, which increased the number of deaths,” the group [AMHD Nador] said on Twitter. In another video shared by the organisation, a Moroccan security officer appeared to use a baton to lash out at one person who lay prone.“ (The Guardian, 26.06.22)

„Across the border, Moroccan officials began a crackdown, prosecuting 65 people who had taken part in the crossing over accusations of igniting fires, attacking security forces and facilitating illegal border crossings, according to Reuters. Hundreds of migrants were also shuttled away from the border and dropped at different points in Morocco’s interior. The Moroccan Association of Human Rights accused officials in Morocco of trying to cover up the deaths, noting that six days after the tragedy, not one autopsy had been carried out and there had been no efforts to identify those who were killed.“ (The Guardian, 30.06.22)

On 26 June, the group reported that at least 15 Africans had been thrown into a mass grave, without clarifying how or by whom they died. (FAZ, 26.06.22)

Dozens of migrants  who had already entered Spanish territory were deported immediately, against International laws. „I saw for myself how 30 to 40 migrants had already managed to get across the border. They were then deported again – against current rules,“ the journalist Javier Angosto recalls. „The Spanish police simply collected them and led them back to Morocco.“ (DW 25.07.22)

Meanwhile Morocco is persecuting the refugees: Migrants in Morocco Are Sentenced in Attempt to Cross Into Spanish Enclave. Thirty-three men, part of a larger group, were given 11 months in prison after a deadly border-crossing effort. The rest of the group is being prosecuted for more serious crimes. Their first day on the trial in court is scheduled for 27 July.


„Human rights campaigners in Spain and Morocco have called for investigations to be launched in both countries after […] at least 23 people [have died].“ (The Guardian, 26.06.22

„NGOs on the ground said the number of deaths could be higher. “We’ve confirmed 37 deaths in the Melilla tragedy,” said Helena Maleno Garzón, whose organisation, Walking Borders, is in constant contact with Africans seeking to cross into Spain from Morocco. Walking Borders joined more than half a dozen others, including Amnesty International Spain, in calling for an investigation into what ranks as the deadliest day in recent memory along the section of the EU’s only land border with Africa.“ (The Guardian, 26.06.22)

See the Press Release signed by 16 activist groups and organizations, 26.06.22.

Also see the „Gemeinsame Erklärung vom Rat für Migration und medico international“ (DE).

Also see the Report by Caminando Fronteras (ES): Masacre frontera Nador-Melilla 24 J.

Please find the report (EN) here.

A week after 23 migrants died in the mass stampede to the Spanish exclave of Melilla, protests have erupted in Spain and Morocco. In Spain, thousands of demonstrators gathered Friday in cities such as Madrid, Barcelona, Málaga, Vigo and San Sebastián and in Melilla itself to protest Spain’s migration policy and the „militarization of the borders.“
In the capital Madrid, several hundred people took up the slogan of the U.S. anti-racism movement Black Lives Matter. They chanted „No human being is illegal“ and held up signs reading „Kill Borders“. (FAZ, 02.07.22)

Also, in Madrid the protesters chanted: No son muertes, son assesinados (They are not deaths, they are assassinations)!

„On Tuesday [26 July] public prosecutors in Spain declared they had opened an investigation into the deaths.“ (The Guardian, 30.06.22)

In Morocco, several dozen people gathered outside parliament in the capital, Rabat. „We demand an end to the EU-funded migration policy, the launch of an independent investigation and the return of the bodies to the families,“ said activist Mamadou Diallo. (FAZ, 02.07.22).

Some History, and Border Business

Recent Attacks on the Camps

As the press release signed by various activist groups and organizations indicates, „the premises of this Friday 24 June’s tragedy have been announced for several weeks. The arrest campaigns, the raids on the camps and the forced displacements of migrants in Nador and its region were foreshadowing this drama. The resumption of the security cooperation between Morocco and Spain on migration in March 2022 had, as a direct consequence the multiplication of coordinated actions between the two countries. These actions are characterised by human rights violations against migrants in Nador, Tetuan and Tangier, as well as in El Aaiún y Dajla. The tragedy of this sad day is the consequence of planned pressure against people on the move. For more than a year and a half, migrants of Nador have been excluded from access to medicine and health care, their camps have been burned down and their belongings looted, their meager food supplies destroyed and even the little drinking water available to them in the camps confiscated. Those punitive expedition have led to a spiral of violence on both sides. Condemnable violence whatever its origins, but at the same time reminding us of the systemic violence that migrants in Nador have been facing for years from both Spanish and Moroccan authorities. These practices have been condemned on numerous occasions by national, regional and UN bodies.“ (Alarmphone, 26.06.22)

In an interview with Telepolis, Helena Maleno (Caminando Fronteras) speaks about the report which they have published one month after the massacre:
Helena Maleno:
The report is divided into three parts. The first part mainly described the period before the massacre. After an agreement between Morocco and Spain in March, there were very harsh military actions against the refugees, including firing tear gas at them from helicopters. There is a military buildup against the people. For them, this was an untenable situation in the forests on the border with Melilla, which practically drove them desperately to the wall.
It was noticeable in the pictures that they didn’t have ladders with them as they usually do. They usually make those for themselves. This shows that they were not prepared. They were pushed to the action with military actions, with arrests and beatings, during which even the forest where they were staying was set on fire. It must also be said here that in the raids, which are financed by the EU, the women are raped as punishment.
So they were literally beaten to the action?
Helena Maleno:
Yes, so they went to the wall unprepared, wanted to break open a door there to get to Melilla. In the process, they were then surrounded from both sides as if in a mousetrap. Moroccan security forces were even on Spanish territory and proceeded brutally against the people side by side with the Guardia Civil.

Already in March 2022, Alarmphone has published a report on Border Business – How the EU’s militarisation fuels smuggling networks between North Africa and Spain. In this report, it is described how the prices for passages have soared, and the levels of security have worsened: „The past few years have seen a huge shift of crossings from the North of Morocco to the South of the country and to Western Sahara. Accordingly, anybody involved in the underlying business structures also extended their networks south. However, the change is not only geographical but also substantial in nature. Before the militarisation of the northern borders reached its peak in 2019, crossings were organised in a fairly de-centralised or collective manner. A group of friends would get together to buy a rubber dinghy to cross the Strait of Gibraltar or larger groups of people would organise jumps of the fences in Melilla and Ceuta. This securitisation – orchestrated by the European Union – of the northern borders has deprived travellers of such horizontal ways of organising. They now have to rely on increasingly centralised smuggling networks. Not only has this militarisation thus promoted more hierarchical networks, but it has also reduced the number of routes available to travellers. This results in an increased demand on the few remaining routes.“ (Alarmphone, 31.03.22)

A history of Razzias

The right of migrants to stay in northern Morocco has always been contested, and even more so has been life in the self-organized camps on Mount Gurugú, where groups of people prepared for their chance to cross the fences. In 2018, the anti-racist group GADEM reported on police operations in northern Morocco, particularly in Rabat, Casablanca, and Tangier, in which over 6,500 people were reportedly arrested, some of them taken into the desert. (GADEM 2018)

The EU had paid 140 million euros for this very operation. In 2019, mediated through the Vienna-based ICMPD, a series of raids were again commissioned for the implementation of the European desire for a „refugee-free“ northern Morocco. (ffm 2019)

Hundreds of police vehicles, fingerprint scanners, and radio equipment were acquired for Morocco. (taz 23.07.20)

Renewed raids occurred in December 2021, as reported by AMDH Nador. The self-organized communities in the camps that served to secure daily life, or organize boat passages and arrangements to cross the border facilities, have been largely destroyed. The fight that happened on 24 June was a desperate attempt to take the last chance of crossing over the fences.

Migrants as Pawns

Since March 2020 Morocco has been keeping the land border access to Ceuta and Melilla closed. Initially justified as a measure to limit the Covid pandemic, the Moroccan authorities delayed the opening in order to exert pressure on Spain over the Western Sahara issue. The separation of numerous families and the disruption of small-scale trade, lucrative for both sides, were accepted in the process.

On 17 May 2021, the Moroccan security forces temporarily eased controls off Ceuta and allowed 6,000 young Moroccans from a neighboring town to pass; 6,000 people reached the enclave by swimming and in rubber dinghies. At the beginning of March 2022, 850 people managed to jump the fence in Melilla.

The Spanish government has understood the message and started to rethink its position in the Western Sahara conflict. Morocco immediately accepted repatriation flights vom Spain. In April, Pedro Sánches visited Rabat and validated the change of position in this conflict. The Moroccan security forces have said thank you now and worked as killers in proxy.

The aftermath of the killing saw some diplomatic efforts to make use of what had happened. While Pedro Sánchez stated „an attack on the territorial integrity of Spain” and tried to engage NATO with the Ceuta and Melilla problem, the Moroccan administration charged Algeria: The „attackers“ entered Morocco through the Algerian border and „took advantage of Algeria’s deliberate laxity in controlling its borders with Morocco,“ according to a statement from the Moroccan Embassy. It said, the rush to the border, which involved up to 2,000 migrants on Friday, „indicates a high level of organization, a planned approach and a hierarchical structure of battle-hardened and trained leaders with experience in conflict zones.

Self Organization of Migrants on Mount Gurugú

The self-organized camps at Mount Gurugú had faced numerous Razzias, including the destruction of tents and belongings of the refugees, and had been forced to move further uphill. The refugees grouped together, mostly by country of origin. They gathered around the most experienced „presidents“ in order to best prepare for the crossing of the fences. The task of the presidents was to take care that every refugee would get a chance in the end.

The book Burning at Europe’s Borders (2021) by Isabella Alexander-Nathani conveys a lot of detailed insights, as of 2014, and allows to follow what two of the refugees said:

Mohamed, who was one of 133 who managed to cross into Spain, said: “There are no mafias, we don’t have money to pay them. We organise ourselves,” he told broadcaster RTVE. And: “Why is Pedro Sánchez saying that we’re mafias?” a young man called Huséin told El País. “We didn’t pay anything … we just used our brains and came up with a good plan because we were suffering a lot.

Final Remarks

All this said, we may understand why the protesters in Madrid chanted: No son muertes, son assesinados. After letting people drown and letting people being tortured, the EU is proceeding in letting people be killed.

The postcolonial order of the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla is one facet of the killings at their borders. Migrants become a bargaining chip in state disputes, as can be illustrated in the transforming positioning of the Spanish state with regard to Western Sahara. However, the escalation of violence that unfolded on June 24 must be considered in the context of the European politics of externalizing the control of migration and borders to non-European states such as Morocco. These politics are being pursued with great vigor by the EU and the European member states – and thus the expansion of the politics that underlie the making drown and being tortured, and the acquiescence of the killing of migrants is being further intensified.

The statement of Judith Sunderland, Human Rights Watch: „Unless there is a rethinking of EU migration policies which are based right now on deterrence, externalisation and outsourcing to third countries like Morocco, Libya and Turkey, it is almost inevitable this will happen again“ gets even more weight: this violence is not just an inevitable consequence of these politics but is inherent to them and needs to be countered with all forces. Letting drown, letting be tortured, and now letting be killed may be too weak an expression for what is happening. It is Europe that kills.

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