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UNPRECEDENTED CONFRONTATIONS AT MELILIA CROSSING : Preliminary Report of Fact-Finding Mission, established by Morocco’s NHRI

PRELIMINARY FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS* 

On June 24, 2022, some 2000 migrants attempted a massive crossing to Melilia, mainly via the Barrio Chino crossing area (Nador-Melilia). The tragic incident was unprecedented in nature, tactics used, scope, number of migrants attempting a mass crossing, number of victims, and casualties, etc.

23 migrants died and 217 people were injured, including 140 law enforcement officers and 77 migrants. Law enforcement officers used tear gas and other nonlethal weapons to block the massive attempts. Migrants used stones, sticks and sharp tools to storm the crossing station and breach the fence, separating Nador and Melilia.

The CNHD reiterates hereby its profound sadness at the loss of life and the reported injuries and its deepest condolences to the families.

Immediately following the tragic incident, the Chairperson of Morocco’s National Human Rights Institution (le Conseil national des droits de l’Homme - CNDH) commissioned a fact-finding mission** to visit the city of Nador and the neighbouring districts and to meet with all stakeholders, including authorities, civil society, and migrants.

The fact-finding mission gathered facts and information regarding the tragic and violent incident. In a press conference, held on July 13th, the CNDH published the preliminary findings and conclusions of its fact-finding mission.

Hereinafter, a translation of the mission’s preliminary findings and conclusions:

* The 30-page (integral) preliminary report is, so far, available, only in Arabic: https://cndh.ma/sites/default/files/khlst_wly_lljn_lsttl-mwjht_mbr_mlyly...
**The Chairperson of the Regional Human Rights Commission in the Oriental Region coordinated the mission. The list of members included the Chairperson of the Regional Human Rights Commission in Souss-Massa, CNDH Human Rights Protection and Monitoring Director, and a physician, member of the Regional Human Rights Commission in the Oriental Region.

UNPRECEDENTED CONFRONTATIONS AT MELILIA CROSSING
Preliminary findings and conclusions

The tragic and violent massive attempt sets a precedent for future crossing attempts. The way the attempted crossing was organized, the tactics used, and valuable information and testimonies collected by the fact-finding mission provided insights on the incident, how it unfolded, particularly, and on the lessons learned for the future. 

Reiterating its profound sadness at the loss of life and the reported injuries and its deepest condolences to the families, the National Human Rights Council (CNDH), hereby presents the preliminary findings and conclusions of its fact-finding mission:

- In total, 23 people died following the tragic and violent incident. Five people died before reaching the hospital. 217 people were injured, including 140 law enforcement officers and 77 migrants;

- Mechanical asphyxia was the main cause of death. The other potential causes of death included massive jostling in a tightly secured and very narrow space at the crossing station and falling as the barbed-wire fence failed (due to the huge number of migrants climbing and attempting to breach the fence at the same time). Only an autopsy, however, can accurately determine the exact individual causes of death;

- For a few cases at the hospital, the fact-finding mission couldn’t determine whether some migrants’ injuries were due to the massive jostling, falling as the fences failed, or to a disproportionate use of force;

- None has been buried, so far. The fact-finding mission visited the mortuary and checked the number of dead bodies kept in this place.

 

The Regional Human Rights Commission in the Oriental Region will follow up on autopsy and DNA testing;

- The mission met with authorities, NGOs, and injured migrants at the hospital. They all confirmed that law enforcement forces did not use lethal weapons or firearms. Instead, law enforcement officers used tear gas and truncheons in the confrontations. Migrants were extremely violent in the confrontations with law enforcement officers;

- All injured migrants and law enforcement officers received necessary medical assistance and care, including medical surgery at the Regional Hospital in Nador and the University Hospital in Oujda;

- The CNDH notes with satisfaction the decision to perform an autopsy and DNA testing in order to accurately determine the causes of death, grantee the rights of right-holders and families, and enclose the findings in the court files;

- NGOs (that the fact-finding mission met) reported that the Spanish authorities hesitated and refrained from providing immediate assistance and medical care. Migrants were massively jostling in a very narrow and tightly secured space. Still, the turnstile gates remained firmly closed, probably leading to the high death toll and number of injuries.

- The (Spanish) Guardia Civil’s patrols the fences and controls the borders 24/24. The different surveillance technology upgrades, from 1998 to 2018, have not deterred migrants from crossing. They didn’t prevent deaths or deportation of hundreds of migrants back to Nador, either;

- During its meetings, the fact-finding mission collected information testifying that a large number of Sudanese migrants have started entering to Morocco, since early 2021. Some of them have recently entered and have “asylum seeker” status.

According to information received by the fact-finding mission, Sudanese migrants have carried out the attempted crossings back in March 2022. This could be considered as a tremendous change in migrant communities in Nador;

- The CNDH notes that there is an emerging and radical change in the way migrants attempt the cross from Nador to Melilla and in the tactics they now use. Indeed, attempts are now abrupt, well-organized and unusually massive (unusual in terms of time (daytime), place (the crossing station instead of all along the fence) and the way (storming the crossing instead on climbing the fence) and composition (the absolute majority of migrants coming from one country/citizenship);

- The direct confrontations with law enforcement officers were unprecedented. Migrants were extremely violent. A huge number (about 2000) armed with stones, sticks, and sharp tools stormed the crossing, all together, at the same time;

- The fact-finding commission condemns the fact that migrants held a law enforcement office hostage, seriously putting the life of another at risk, and seizing (and using) law enforcement equipment;

- The CNDH deplores the fact that disinformation and misinformation, during this tragic incident, confused national and international public opinion.  These include in particular spreading “fake news” about law enforcement officers use of lethal weapons and firearms, about providing insufficient or no medical care, and sharing statements by migrants or “asylum seekers demanding their right to cross the border by any means whatsoever”;

The CNDH hereby informs the public opinion that the Chairperson of the Regional Human Rights Commission in the Oriental Region appointed a task force to follow up on trial and report thereon;

Preliminary propositions:
Based on its preliminary findings and conclusions, the established facts, contextualized information and interviews, the CNDH hereby stresses and highlights the following:
- A thorough judicial investigation must include all aspects of confrontations and proportionality of the use of violence. Cooperation with all relevant stakeholders needs to be straightened to effectively deter and fight against smugglers; The findings of the investigation shall be published to ensure accountability;

The National Human Rights Council:
- Calls on authorities and stakeholders concerned to reconsider the way order is maintained at the fence and crossing stations. Safety of migrants must always prevail;

- Deplores any exclusive and strict security approach to migration, across the globe, namely regarding migrants from the Middle East and Africa. Migration is a choice and a decision. Governments must prevent smugglers from having a grip nor the upper hand in this regard;

- Recommends that Moroccan authorities shall launch new consultations with the European Union toward a true and equal partnership to implement the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration;

- Calls on the African Union Commission to propose measures to governments to engage effectively in the continental management of migration, in such a way that can help ensure safety and dignity of Africans;

- Recommends that the African Union implements the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children and the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime;

- Migration is witnessing major changes and being influenced by several factors and variables. The CNDH sounds the alarm about the exponential changes caused by poverty, drought, conflicts and climate change;

- Urges the authorities concerned to speed up the necessary process and procedures; in order for the African Migration Observatory to fulfill its mandate and prerogatives;

- Highlights the need for effective implementation of the international standards on the protection of all migrants, irrespective of their legal status and nationality, wherever they are;

- Urges the protection of migrants and asylum-seekers from smugglers, mainly by providing humanitarian stay conditions and swiftly passing the bill on asylum and

- asylum granting conditions, in conformity with the Moroccan constitution and international standards protecting refugees;

- Calls for intensified national, continental and international efforts to prevent and fight against human trafficking and smuggling;

- Calls on local authorities to take necessary measures and provide adequate and sufficient tools to manage the new forms of crossing of migrants and asylum-seekers;

- Stresses the need to ensure the safety of migrants and to always abide by the principles of necessity and proportionality, regardless on any circumstances, when law enforcement and order are called upon, to protect migrants’ physical integrity, be it when migrants massively attempt to climb a barbed-wire fence or massively attempting to storm a crossing station.

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