Amnesty accuses Spain and Morocco of cover-up over Melilla enclave migrant deaths

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Amnesty accuses Spain and Morocco of cover-up over Melilla enclave migrant deaths © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Luna Reyes, 20, a member of Spanish Red Cross, embraces and comforts a migrant Sub-Saharian as he refuses to be deported to Morocco after he crossed the border swimming from Morocco to Spain, at El Tarajal beach, after thousands of migrants sw

By Joan Faus

BARCELONA (Reuters) – Amnesty International on Friday accused Spain and Morocco of a cover-up for failing to properly investigate events at the border of the Spanish enclave of Melilla last year, when tens of migrants and refugees died during a mass attempted crossing.

On June 24 2002, around 2,000 Sub-Saharan African migrants and refugees attempted to enter Spain’s North African enclave from Morocco. At least 37 died and at least 76 are still missing, the NGO said.

Morocco said 23 people died in a crush when migrants fell from the fence, and Spain has said no deaths occurred on its soil.

“One year on from the carnage at Melilla, Spanish and Moroccan authorities not only continue to deny any responsibility but are preventing attempts to find the truth,” said Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Agnes Callamard.

Amnesty said authorities had failed to make any attempt to repatriate victims’ remains and had not provided a full list of names and causes of death, as well as CCTV footage which could inform an investigation.

“The lessons of Melilla must be learned or – as the shipwreck off the Greek coast shows – arbitrary loss of life, violence and impunity at borders will continue,” Callamard added.

A fishing boat packed with hundreds of migrants sank off Greece’s south-west coast earlier this month, on a journey that started from Libya and was supposed to end in Italy. At least 82 were killed and hundreds are still missing.

Spain’s Attorney General investigated the Melilla incident but declined to charge Spanish officers who he said had been unaware of the fatal crush. Spanish lawmakers rejected calls for a parliamentary inquiry.

The handling of the event by authorities on both sides of the border was criticised however by rights groups and independent investigators.

Spain’s ombudsman said Spain had returned those who jumped the fence without processing their cases and the U.N.’s Commissioner for Human Rights said they found “no genuine and effective access to asylum at the border”.

A spokesman for Spain’s Interior Ministry said the investigation by Spain’s Attorney General had been carried out “with full guarantees and in full depth.”

Authorities in Morocco declined a request for comment.

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