Spanish PM: Melilla migrant rush an attack on ‘territorial integrity’

The Prime Minister described a deadly migrant rush in the enclave of Melilla as "an attack on the territorial integrity" of Spain which he blamed on "mafias that traffic in human beings".

Spanish PM: Melilla migrant rush an attack on 'territorial integrity'
A member of the Moroccan security forces on the border fence separating Morocco from Spain's North African Melilla enclave. Photo: Hicham RAFIH/AFP

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Saturday described a deadly migrant rush in the enclave of Melilla bordering Morocco as “an attack on the territorial integrity” of Spain which he blamed on “mafias that traffic in human beings”.

Dramatic scenes on Friday saw some 2,000 migrants storm border fences separating Morocco from the Spanish enclave Melilla, leading to at least 18 deaths, according to the latest Moroccan official toll.

READ ALSO: 18 migrants die in mass attempt to enter Spain’s Melilla

“If anyone is responsible for everything that happened at the border, it is the mafias that traffic in human beings,” he told a press conference.

Melilla, along with fellow Spanish enclave Ceuta, are the European Union’s only two borders with the African continent and both towns have long been magnets for migrants willing to risk their lives to reach the bloc.

Sánchez condemned what he termed “a violent and organised assault organised by mafia who traffic human beings to a town situated on Spanish soil. As a result this is an attack on our territorial integrity.”

He added that “the Moroccan gendarmerie worked in concert with (Spanish) troops and security bodies to push back this so violent assault that we witnessed.”

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Spain insists no migrant deaths on its soil despite new evidence

Spain's interior minister has reiterated that no deaths occurred on Spanish soil when migrants stormed Melilla from Morocco in June, leaving at least 23 people dead. A new investigation based on footage of the event claims otherwise.

Spain insists no migrant deaths on its soil despite new evidence

Marlaska’s comments came a day after several European media outlets – including Spanish daily El País, France’s Le Monde and Germany’s Der Spiegel – published an investigation which concluded that at least one migrant died on the Spanish side of the border.

One of the videos of the mass crossing, of the more than 100 that they’ve analysed, shows a Moroccan police officer on Spanish soil saying “he’s dead” when checking the pulse of a sub-Saharan migrant on the ground, described by the investigative team as “graphic evidence”.

But the Spanish government continue to deny the claims.

“I have said it before and I will repeat it again: we are talking about tragic events that took place outside our country. There has been no loss of life on national territory,” Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska.

The minister said the “tragedy should never have happened” but said it “originated in a violent attempt to enter our country”.

The interior minister has been in the hot seat since the border breach on June 24th, with opposition parties calling for his resignation. This was his second appearance in parliament to discuss the tragedy.

The Spanish authorities said up to 2,000 migrants stormed the high fence that seals off Melilla from Morocco and engaged in a two-hour skirmish with border officers.

While scores succeeded in reaching the Spanish territory at the northern tip of Africa, Moroccan authorities said at least 23 people were killed in a crush while others died from falling after climbing up.

It was the highest death toll in years from such attempted crossings into Melilla.

Video evidence

The media investigation published Tuesday showed images of an African migrant on the ground of the Spanish side of the border.

A member of the Moroccan security forces can be seen taking his pulse and then is heard declaring the migrant dead.

Another migrant who was at his side confirmed his death, according to the investigations which was based on interviews with dozens of survivors of the tragedy.

A BBC documentary which aired on November 1st said video footage showed “at least one dead body” at the entrance of the Melilla border post, as well as other bodies being removed by Moroccan security forces.

Spanish authorities had confirmed this area was “under their control”, the BBC added.

Both Spanish and Moroccan authorities have defended their actions during the attempted border crossing saying the migrants had been violent and that reasonable force had been used.

Grande-Marlaska repeated those arguments on Wednesday, saying he “sympathises” with the causes such as wars pushing people to try to move to Europe “but that does not justify a violent attack against the borders of a country”.

The Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta have long been a magnet for people fleeing violence and poverty across Africa, seeking refuge via the continent’s only land borders with the European Union.