AU calls for investigation into migrant deaths, violent, degrading treatment

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ALGIERS- President of the Commission of the African Union (AU), Moussa Faki Mahamat, denounced “the violent and degrading treatment of African migrants” by the Moroccan security forces, Friday, during an attempt to enter the Spanish enclave of Melilla and demanded an investigation into this tragedy.

“I am deeply shocked and concerned at the violent and degrading treatment of African migrants attempting to cross an international border from Morocco into Spain, with the ensuing violence resulting in the death of at least 23 people and many injuries”, said Moussa Faki in a press release published on the AU website.

“I call for an immediate investigation into the matter and remind all countries of their obligations under international law to treat all migrants with dignity and to prioritize their safety and human rights, while refraining from the use of excessive force,” he added.

At least 23 migrants of African descent died on Friday after Moroccan police used disproportionate force as they tried to prevent nearly 2,000 of them from entering the Spanish enclave of Melilla, according to an official report given on Saturday evening.

This toll is the deadliest ever recorded during the many attempts by sub-Saharan migrants to enter Melilla and the neighboring Spanish enclave of Ceuta, the European Union’s only land borders with the African continent.

As a reminder, several calls were made, on Saturday, in Spain and elsewhere, to demand an independent investigation into this “tragedy”.

Moroccan authorities say the individuals died as a result of a “stampede” of people who attempted to climb the iron fence that separates the city of Melilla and Morocco. Morocco’s Interior Ministry said 76 civilians were also injured.

Meanwhile, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez condemned what he described as a “violent assault” and an “attack on the territorial integrity” of Spain.

Spanish officials said 49 Civil Guards sustained minor injuries.

“If there is anyone responsible for everything that appears to have taken place at that border, it is the mafias that traffic in human beings,” Sánchez said.

“We call for the opening of a rapid and transparent investigation,” Mohamed Amine Abidar, the president of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH) branch in Nador, in the north, told the media from Morocco.

For its part, the Spanish NGO Caminando Fronteras, a specialist in migration between Africa and Spain, demanded, in a press release, issued on Saturday “the immediate opening of an independent judicial investigation on the Moroccan and Spanish side, as well as on the international level to shed light on this human tragedy”.

For his part, Eduardo de Castro, the president (mayor) of Melilla and the highest political authority of this autonomous city, denounced a “disproportionate response” from Morocco to the attempted passage of migrants.

“Morocco allows itself certain things that would not be acceptable” in Spain, he said.

In a statement released late Friday, Amnesty International expressed its “deep concern” over the events at the border.

The International Organization for Migration and UN refugee agency UNHCR also weighed in with a statement that expressed “profound sadness and concern” over what happened at the Morocco-Melilla border.

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