Spain-France: Journalist mistreated in Madrid airport (1)

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In an article in Libération newspaper, Magatte Mbengue, a 37-year-old freelance journalist who is a black French national of Senegalese origin, recounted the ill-treatment that she suffered at the hand of the Spanish police while she was in transit in Madrid's Barajas airport on an Iberia flight taking her from Dakar to Paris on 26 November 2005.

She was surprised when almost all the black passengers on her flight had their passports systematically and discourteously confiscated by a police officer on their arrival in Madrid. Realising that there appeared to be separate checks for white and black passengers (the latter are described as being left on one side, "like livestock"), regardless of nationality, she went to the counter for border checks for EU citizens to complain about the confiscation of her passport, demanding that it be returned. The officer responded by leaving the counter and grabbing hold of her, and four more officers appeared on the scene as she struggled to free herself. They restrained and cursed her, leading her away, and she also received a number of blows on her back, some punches and a truncheon blow on the scruff of her neck.

In spite of her possessing a French passport, her complaints led to threats of her being deported back to Dakar and, at one point, she was also asked by an interpreter if she had an entry visa. Returning to the passport control, and angered by the treatment she had been given, Magatte Mbengue asked the officer at the desk (the one who first restrained her) to be spared the queue, as her passport had already been carefully checked.

Her request was denied and she wiped her hand, which was bleeding from the blows she had received, on the counter in disgust, resulting in the officer leaving his counter again. She was restrained and, when eight more officers appeared, she was thrown to the floor, hit repeatedly, insulted and threatened, once more.

After undergoing the passport control, an airport information service officer who was shocked by her account called the medical services to take care of her, "the first person after around three quarters of an hour during which my calvary lasted who displayed a bit of humanity towards me".

The author concludes that:

"effectively, I have been beaten, treated violently and insulted for nothing. I am not accused of anything. Apart from being black, and of having demanded to be treated legally and with a minimum of respect. I am reproached for having said that they didn’t have the right to control me in this way".

Her account sheds light on the translation of "strict border control policies" into practice for members of minorities.

Mbengue has set up a blog entitled "Droit à la dignité" (Right to dignity), which includes details of the committee to support her attempts to force a trial about these events, details of demonstrations (the latest one took place on 19 July 2006) that have been held, and a petition entitled "Try the Spanish police" that is open for signature.

Madrid, policiers racistes, Libération, 30.1.06; available at:; Droit à la dignité,<

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