BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Protests are expected across Spain and in the capital of Morocco Friday amid a groundswell of calls for an investigation over the deaths of at least 23 people at the border between the Spanish enclave of Melilla and Morocco.
The deaths occurred on June 24 during repeated attempts by sub-Saharan migrants and asylum seekers to scale the border fence separating both territories.
Morocco’s Human Rights Association contested the official death toll, reporting instead that 27 migrants had died, while the Spanish NGO Walking Borders is reporting 37 fatalities.
Moroccan authorities said the migrants died as a result of a “stampede.”
The demonstrations are being held under the moniker “Las Vidas Negras Importan” in Spanish or “Black Lives Matter” in English. Videos and photos that emerged in the days following the deaths have sparked outrage and condemnation by several human rights organizations and officials including the United Nations Secretary-General.
In one video shared by the Moroccan Human Rights Association dozens of young Black men, some of them motionless and bleeding are seen strewn on the floor as Moroccan security forces stand over them. One uniformed man is seen poking one body with his baton. In another video published by several Spanish media outlets a group of migrants is seen climbing a fence, some hurling rocks at Moroccan anti-riot police trying to stop them. At one point, the fence collapses, sending them to the ground from a height of several meters.
“I am shocked by the violence on the Nador-Melilla border,” U.N. Chief Antonio Guterres tweeted this week. “The use of excessive force is unacceptable, and the human rights and dignity of people on the move must be prioritized by countries.”
Spain’s state prosecutors announced the launch of a probe “to clarify what happened” given the “significance and seriousness” of the events at the Melilla border.
Authorities in Morocco and Spain also reported that 140 security officers on the Moroccan side and 60 National Police and Civil Guard officers on the Spanish side, were injured.
In an exclusive interview with the Associated Press, Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez defended the way Moroccan and Spanish police repelled migrants trying to cross into Melilla calling the attempt “an attack on Spain’s borders.”
Meanwhile, the dead have yet to be identified.
Omar Naji of Morocco’s Human Rights Association in Nador said they have been contacted by the families of Sudanese migrants believed to be among the victims but have not been allowed to see the bodies or the dozens of injured migrants being treated at a local hospital.
“We demand a thorough investigation to clarify who is responsible (for the deaths) as well as the necessary autopsies to identify the causes of their deaths,” he said.