A video released by the NGO AMDH Nador after the migrants rushed the border

SPAIN’S interior minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, on Wednesday sought to defend the actions of border police in the North African exclave city of Melilla on June 24 when they were rushed by nearly 2,000 would-be migrants. According to NGOs, as many as 37 people may have died during the attempt to reach Spanish soil.

Speaking in the Congress of Deputies today, Grande-Marlaska did not release any new details about the incident involving the sub-Saharan migrants, most of whom came from Sudan. But it was the first time that he had given an official explanation about what happened.

He began by offering his condolences over the migrant deaths, which numbered 23 according to the Moroccan authorities but could have been as high as 37 according to NGOs. 

“It is clear that we are talking about an episode involving a violent and irregular attempt to enter [Spain], which is unjustifiable,” he told lawmakers in the lower house of parliament. 

He gave a detailed explanation of the events that took place that day in Nador, a Moroccan town that borders Melilla, explaining that the authorities on that side of the fence warned the Spanish Civil Guard that a very large group was approaching the fence armed with “offensive weapons and sticks”. 

The Moroccan authorities, the minister continued, tried to stop them from reaching the border but were overcome by another “extremely violent” group that forced its way past. 

By 8.20am local time some 1,700 migrants had made it into the border area, he continued, creating a bottleneck. It was in this crush that many of the migrants died, although there are also accusations of brutal beatings by Moroccan officers.

The Civil Guard managed to stop most of the migrants from entering Melilla, by making “opportune and proportionate” use of their resources, “which included riot gear”, the minister added. He also pointed out that 55 civil guards had been injured in the incident, and that there had been damage to police property such as vehicles. 

The minister did not, however, mention the claims that Moroccan officers beat migrants once they were already on the ground, nor that they reportedly left them there for hours without offering medical attention. 

Right-wing parties such as Vox and the Popular Party (PP) were quick to criticise Marlaska, and called for more resources at Spain’s borders to halt the entrance of “illegal immigrants”. 

The North African exclave cities of Melilla and Ceuta have long been a target for would-be migrants trying to reach Spanish soil, and have also been used by the Moroccan authorities as a way to pressure Spain. In May 2021, more than 10,000 people were allowed to pass the border as the Moroccans looked the other way due to a political spat between the two countries. However, relations and border security have since improved after Spain took the side of Morocco over the disputed Western Sahara territory.


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