Spain: Human Rights at the southern border - the events in Ceuta and Melilla are not an isolated event

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On 22 April 2014, the Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de Andalucía (APDHA) presented its annual "Report on Human Rights at the southern border" for 2014, which focuses on the situation at the borders in the Spanish north African enclave cities of Ceuta and Melilla, where at least 15 people died in controversial circumstances, including the firing of rubber bullets and teargas as they swam, on 6 February 2014. Presenting the report, its coordinator Rafael Lara and Carlos Arce, the coordinator of APDHA's immigration section, highlighted the need to focus on this border area and to offer a reading of the situation within a "wide temporal perspective", looking back at events since the 1990s and the reaction to the deaths that occurred during an attempt to cross the border in 2005.
Lara and Arce stressed the need to analyse "the short/medium-term scenario that is arising in terms of human rights at the southern border.

The attempt to seek out a political 'umbrella' to justify what are known as 'hot returns' under the supposed cover of the bilateral Spanish-Moroccan treaty, the unlikely redefinition of the concept of the border (the non-existent 'no man's lands', the idea that people do not enter Spanish territory until after the last material or physical barrier has been passed...) or possible modifications of the Ley de Extranjería [Spain's immigration law] are at the core of APDHA's concerns regarding this issue".

They continued by explaining the purpose of the report for 2014, in the words of APDHA's article on the presentation:

"The final objective of this report is precisely that of stressing that the events on 6 February were not isolated or an unfortunate specific incident, but rather, on the contrary, they are a direct consequence of more than two decades of political, legal and policing procedures to control the borders in Ceuta and Melilla, in which a true concern for respecting fundamental rights has shone through only due to its absence. This is why Rafael Lara stressed that, since the early 1990s, the policy to control both cities' borders with Morocco has only featured an exclusively policing-minded perspective, spattered with sorry events that are inappropriate for a State that expects to be treated as Democratic and as governed by the rule of law. 'Sadly, there are plenty of examples of such events and they are analysed in the report: shameful overcrowding in unhygienic sites (in the ramparts of Ángulo and the Clalamocarro centre in Ceuta or La Granja in Melilla), irregular expulsions that violate national and international legislation (including sedation, the expulsion of minors and direct handovers to the Moroccan security forces without any formal procedures whatsoever) or the use of methods to prevent illegal entry that endanger migrants' lives (concertinas, the use of live ammunition during the events in 2005, or the use of riot gear this year)'".

The report starts by providing geographical and historical background for viewing Ceuta and Melilla, characterised as "prison cities, walls of death", which includes the movements of migrants that followed the approval of the 1985 immigration law; events in 1995 during which massed migrants were held in inhumane conditions in El Ángulo in Ceuta, including a protest that ended with 70 people injured after the police used riot gear and some citizens got involved, insulting and striking them.

Following transfers from Melilla to Málaga in 1996, there were expulsions by military aircraft after migrants were administered sedatives; the operation of the Calmocarro camp for migrants in Ceuta, where thousands of migrants were held in inhumane conditions until 2000; there were special reception programmes and transfers to the Spanish mainland between 1996 and 2000, largely aimed at sub-Saharan Africans, with a view to resolving the situation prior to effectively attempting to seal the borders; in 1998.

Three local police officers complained about the ill-treatment and illegal expulsion of Moroccan minors; next, the report tracks the different stages in the erection of the border fences in Ceuta and Melilla; completion of the border fences was accompanied by the contruction of Centros de Estancia Temporal para Inmigrantes (CETI, Centres for the Temporary Stay of Immigrants, which similar to detention centres, CIEs, but have an open regime and they are run by the employment and social security ministry rather than the interior ministry), which opened in 1999 in Melilla and in 2000 in Ceuta.

The deaths, including by gunfire, during the border crossing attempts in 2005 are documented next; these were accompanied by further strengthening of the border fences, including rings of barbed wire that were to cause injuries to would-be migrants who attempted to climb over the fence leading to their removal in 2007, euphemistically termed using a musical term, "concertinas"; next, the peculiar status of these border cities is analysed, followed by the situation of women who suffer a double discrimination, as foreigners and as women; 2013 saw the return of the so-called "concertinas", or barbed wire rings, whose effects in terms of injuries to the bodies of migrants have already been documented; the events of February 2014 and related issues including lies and contradictions in the official version of events, "hot returns", the Spanish-Moroccan readmission agreements, and portrayal of the invasion of Ceuta and Melilla by migrants as a phantom that frightens Europe are the final concerns of this engrossing report, which includes a wealth of statistical data and some key policy recommendations.

The report ends with APDHA's customary compilation of statistical data concerning the balance of migration in terms of arrivals per geographical location, modes of travel, interceptions in north Africa, country or region of origin, gender (adults/minors), deaths and disappearances.


Derechos Humanos en la Frontera Sur 2014, APDHA, available at:
Article on the presentation of the report, 22.4.2014,

French version:
Droits de l'Homme à la Frontière Sud 2014,

Statewatch coverage

Statewatch enjoyed the privilege of having access to two exceptional and moving articles that dealt with these issues, which we translated. You will find them below, as they provide some important historical context.

The first is an article by Nieves García Benito on the experience of living in Tarifa when corpses started arriving on the shore. "Nothing is true, nor is it a lie" (from Mugak magazine, first quarter 2003, no. 22).

The second is an article by Peio Aierbe on the treatment of the attempt to climb the border fences and deaths that occurred in 2005 by the media. "The 'assault' on 'sub-Saharan migrants' in the media" (from SOS Racismo's annual report on racism in the Spanish State, 2006).

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