Spain/Morocco: Migrants shot dead at the border fence, Spain deploys army

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Four people who took part in an onslaught by hundreds of African would-be migrants in an attempt to get across the border fence in the Spanish north African enclave of Ceuta were confirmed to have died in the early morning of 28 September 2005. Initial reports spoke of three deaths on the Moroccan side and two on the Spanish side of the border, although Moroccan authorities later lowered the official figure for deaths in Moroccan territory to two.

Eye-witness reports claim that several Spanish Guardia Civil officers protecting the border fired rubber bullets at the migrants on the Moroccan side, through and above the fence, whose upper part is fitted with barbed wire. These reports claim that Moroccan officers subsequently appeared behind them penning the migrants in, and firing shots, thus catching them between two fires. Over a hundred were injured and taken to hospital, six with bullet wounds, and unofficial reports claim that up to six people may have died. It later surfaced from the autopsies of the two dead bodies from the Spanish side of the fence that they were shot, as they had bullet wounds, showing that live ammunition was fired. This is reportedly also the case for one of the migrants who died on the Moroccan side of the fence. A report by the Spanish police claims that the Moroccan gendarmerie used firearms and that the shots they fired were also responsible for the deaths on the Spanish side of the border.

The Guardia Civil supports this view, claiming that the trajectory of the shots and the bullet that was found on Spanish soil (which is of a different kind from those with which the Guardia Civil is equipped) confirm this view. The Moroccan press agency MAP claimed that the shots that killed the migrants in Morocco came from the Spanish side. The two countries' prime ministers, Zapatero and Jettu, who were at a Moroccan-Spanish summit in Seville, announced that these events would be the object of a joint investigation.

The army has already been deployed to control the border for an "indefinite period", with two companies of 120 soldiers from the army bases in Ceuta and Melilla posted in each of the two towns' border fence areas. Melilla is the other Spanish enclave in northern Morocco, and has been the scene of a number of similar attempts to cross the border fence in large numbers using rustic ladders that are made for the occasion using branches over the last month, in which at least three migrants have died. The Guardia Civil was accused by eye-witnesses of responsibility in events resulting in the death of the first casualty, a man from Cameroon who died on 28 August on the Moroccan side of the fence in Melilla (which is set to be raised to six metres). An internal investigation by the Guardia Civil excluded that it had any responsibility in the death, but contrasting witness statements claimed that rubber bullets were fired at him at point-blank range, and that he was beaten on the Spanish side of the fence by officers. The Moroccan police, which is investigating the incident, denied these possibilities, claiming that the autopsy revealed that the likeliest cause of death was a fall. A number of witnesses claimed that two people had died rather than one, and that Guardia Civil officers had fired rubber bullets and struck migrants on the chest with the butts of their rifles. The second death took place on 8 September, when migrants brought an unconscious body to the border fence hours after the Guardia Civil had prevented a border crossing. The man was taken to hospital, where he died four days later. On 15 September, another migrant died in a hospital in Melilla after he was handed to officers shortly after a border crossing attempt (his companions claimed that he hadn't taken part in it) suffering from asphyxia and with wounds on his neck.

The Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de Andalucía (APDHA) issued a statement to highlight the alarming situation and human rights violations that migrants are suffering in Morocco, which is described as having been subcontracted to do the EU's "dirty work" in the prevention of immigration. Another statement issued jointly with Andalucía Acoge and Chabaka, a network of northern Moroccan human rights groups, highlights that cooperation between Spain and the EU and Morocco, currently largely concerned with preventing "illegal" immigration, far from giving rise to an improvement in the human rights situation in the north African country, (one of its envisaged beneficial effects, according to official EU documents) is resulting in an increase in human right abuses. The NGOs have called for a delegation of international observers to visit the Ceuta and Melilla border areas to investigate the human rights situation. These organisations have been reporting human rights violations in the border region for several months. (see Statewatch news online, February & March 2005).

El País, 31.8, 1.9, 6.9, 7.9,16.9, 28.9, 29.9.2005. APDHA statements, 28.9.2005, available on .
Previous Statewatch coverage (February 2005): Morocco/Spain: Update: Appeal highlights the human rights implications of the transfer of responsibility for immigration controls to third countries

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