Zacharias, a 22-year-old man, had fled his home country of Chad and traveled through eight countries, asking for asylum in several of them, but in none of them did he receive protection. 24 June was the first time he tried to enter Spain, “I am shocked by what I have seen. I thought Europe was something else, something different.” Zacharias was beaten by Moroccan and Spanish police officers on that day and was caught by Spanish police as he climbed down from the fence on the Melilla side of the border.
On 24 June 2022, the deadliest incident ever recorded at the Melilla border between Morocco and Spain left at least 37 people dead and 77 more missing. These people, who came from sub-Saharan Africa seeking safety, were met with prolonged and excessive use of force by Moroccan and Spanish security officials and many were left lying injured on the floor inside a fenced-off enclosure for hours. A report by Amnesty International details how this violence, along with a failure to provide timely medical assistance, contributed to – if not directly caused – their deaths and injuries. 6 months later, neither Morocco nor Spain have conducted independent and impartial investigations, and no one has been brought to justice for these grave human rights violations. This is not only an insult to the memory of those who died, but also exacerbates the suffering of their loved ones and other victims, who need truth, justice and reparations for these crimes.
The 24 June tragedy epitomizes the failure of European migration policies and the approach to border management by Morocco and Spain, where the focus has for decades been on security, rather than ensuring a safe and humane treatment to migrants and asylum seekers. This catastrophic incident illustrates discrimination and disregard for people’s lives, both by the policy makers and those carrying out their orders at the borders.
They throw stones at you, they hit you with sticks and they also use sharp objects. When you are at the top, they hit you with stones and sticks to make you fall in. If you fall, you can drown. Sometimes the Moroccan police even push us into the boat. There are people who disappear; they are never heard from againZacharias, 22 from Chad
Melilla, an inaccessible fortress
Melilla, one of the two Spanish enclaves in Morocco, shares a physical land border of 11.2 km with Morocco and is separated from the Northern province of Nador by three fences. These fences, and particularly the four official border crossing points along it, have been the sites of deaths and injuries of many people trying to leave Morocco and enter Europe.
Melilla is a fortified zone, with fences, concrete walls, ditches and barbed wire fences, all designed to prevent people from accessing Spanish territory. Amnesty International has long documented how the militarization and securitisation of these border management systems, as well as the use of weapons to stop people from crossing the Ceuta and Melilla borders, makes it difficult for people to access safe routes for asylum.
“…the violence documented in videos of the scenes at Melilla’s gate tragically reveals the status quo of the European Union’s borders, namely racialised exclusion and deadly violence deployed to keep out people of African and Middle Eastern descent, and other non-white populations, irrespective of their rights under international refugee or international human rights law.United Nations
Trapped in a cage of violence: the tragedy of 24 June 2022
On the morning of that fateful day, between 1500 and 2000 refugees and migrants, mostly Sudanese, attempted to cross the border between Morocco and Melilla.
As they approached the informal crossing point of Barrio Chino, they were met by more than 100 Moroccan border forces firing at them with tear gas, pelting rocks and hitting them with batons.
The force of their response, which lasted more than two hours, resulted in at least 37 people dying and many more being injured. Some 77 people are still missing to this day.
Moroccan and Spanish security forces used weapons such as batons, tear gas and rubber bullets in an enclosed area from which people could not easily leave. Law enforcement officials continued to use such weapons even after people were under police control and could not move. Testimonies indicate that actions by both Spanish and Moroccan police and border guards used unlawful force and were punitive in intent. People have described to Amnesty International how border guards beat them, repeatedly used tear gas in confined spaces and denied them access to healthcare, even when they were badly injured.
“We realized that we were in a box, both the Moroccan and Spanish security forces were throwing everything at us, gas bombs, stones, rubber bullets, rubber balls… We couldn’t see anything, and it was difficult to breathe.” Zacharias, 22, from Chad
Warning: Graphic content below
“The police used tools; stones, knives, sticks, and they shot us with small guns with rubber bullets. They hit us on our heads with long wooden sticks and knives.”Abuobida, 25, from Sudan
Abuses by Moroccan border forces and police
As the Moroccan border forces began throwing tear gas and stones at the group, eyewitnesses stated that two stampedes formed as people tried desperately to escape the attack.
Witnesses said that Moroccan agents then started to beat people using batons, kicking them and throwing stones, including at those already on the ground and injured.
Those who continued to climb the fences were specifically targeted by the border forces pelting them with stones and beating them with batons on their backs and feet. This caused many people to fall, after which they were herded, using baton charges, into a concentrated area.
Around 400 people were trapped in this 200m2 enclosed area between the walls and the Moroccan forces. At that point, Moroccan police officers threw people on top of each other, whether alive, injured or dead. This can be seen in several videos verified by Amnesty International, which show people lying on the ground while Moroccan officers poke and hit them with their batons. In one video, a Moroccan officer is clearly seen kicking a person lying on the ground.
“The police used tools; stones, knives, sticks, and they shot us with small guns with rubber bullets. They hit us on our heads with long wooden sticks and knives.”
Abuobida, a 25-year-old Sudanese man
Abdessalam, a man in his early twenties from Sudan, said that he climbed over the first wall before it fell but that Moroccan officials caught him and took him back. He described watching the Moroccan police beating his brother and cousin to death as he was climbing over the wall.
“They were trying to climb the wall, but the authorities had tear gas and stones. They [his brother and cousin] fell down on the Moroccan side and the police were hitting them with wooden sticks. They died because of the beating.”
Abuses by Spanish security forces
Meanwhile, the Spanish police forces arrived at the fences at Barrio Chino crossing point from the Spanish side, preventing people from entering Melilla.
Amnesty International condemns the Spanish security forces in Melilla’s unlawful use of force, including at times with punitive intent or effect, and misused weapons including rubber balls, smoke canisters and tear gas.
What was particularly shocking was the use of pepper spray and tear gas at close distance to prevent people from entering Melilla, even while they were trapped inside the border enclosure and being attacked from all sides by Moroccan and Spanish forces over a two hour period, where it was clear that the gas would affect people who could not escape.
Amnesty International was told that Spanish security forces continued to beat people even after they were in their control and unable to respond, including as they handed individuals over to the Moroccan forces.
Zacharias, a 22-year-old man from Chad, said that he was caught by Spanish police after he came down from the fence.
“An officer hit me on the head with a truncheon. My face was covered in blood. He tied my hands behind my back, lifted me by my shirt and passed me between the fences where a Moroccan policeman was waiting.”
I could see how Moroccan police officers beat people who were on the ground unconscious…I got away from him and started to run through the area between the fences…I asked for asylum in several African countries, but in none of them did I get protection. The 24th [of June] was the first time I tried to enter Spain. I am shocked by what I have seen. I thought Europe was something else, something different.”
Demand truth, justice and reparations for the victims of Melilla
Injured people denied medical help
Moroccan and Spanish officers inflicted widespread beatings on injured people trapped in between the fences of the Barrio Chino border crossing.
The crush left people piled on top of each other, some of them already dead, and was intensified as officials violently pushed more people on top of those already lying on the ground. This violent repression lasted over two hours.
Even more disturbingly, for at least 8 hours afterwards neither Moroccan nor Spanish officers provided adequate medical assistance to the wounded people – a display of inhumanity which likely contributed to avoidable loss of life.
The Moroccan authorities did not send ambulances to the scene until 11:30am, around two and a half hours after the border crossing attempt began. The four ambulances that Morocco did send initially prioritised removing dead bodies rather than helping the injured people.
Later, some more ambulances arrived, allowing more injured people to be transferred. The last ambulance left the scene at 9pm, 12 hours after it all began. Between 11.30am and 9pm, minimal and grossly inadequate medical assistance was provided to injured people at the scene, according to testimonies received by Amnesty International.
On the Spanish side of the border, the authorities also failed to make any effort to provide much-needed medical assistance to wounded people crammed into the facility. What is more, a testimony by Isam, a young man from Sudan, described Spanish authorities forcibly removing people from Spanish territory and transferring them to Moroccan security forces, without any sign of due process to assess safety risks, and despite them being in evident need of medical care, a dereliction of duty that may amount to torture and other ill-treatment. Moreover, it may even have contributed to a number of deaths
Loved ones denied answers
Months later, families of 77 people who have been missing since that day are still searching for answers.
The Moroccan Ministries of Justice and the Interior have so far done nothing to help them discover the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones and have in fact obstructed attempts by families and NGOs to locate them.
All of these individuals were last seen in the custody of state officials, either put on buses to be transferred to cities across Morocco, or otherwise being restrained at the border.
Kori, a 17-year-old Sudanese boy, lost many friends on 24 June. He said that he along with “all of the people captured by the police were taken by the Moroccan police to the prison, then after that in the prison they were being beaten by hammers in their head until they passed away.”
According to his testimony, some policemen shot people in the head directly with rubber bullets while in prison. After a few days, he said, the police “started removing people and taking them to the Algerian desert, about 200km from the city. Those who were badly injured were taken to hospital and others were distributed within cities in Morocco.”
The Moroccan authorities have refused to publish the list of those who died that day and to actively inform their families, and have made it practically impossible for other organizations such as the AMDH and ICRC to carry out their work in searching for missing people.
The day after the attempted border crossing, the AMDH were able to access the Nador morgue, for the first and only time and found 15 bodies of people who appeared to have suffered injuries to their heads and faces, chest and feet. After publishing this information, they were denied permission to look at the bodies or to verify their identities.
Huwaida, the niece of Anwar, a 27-year-old Sudanese man, thought her uncle was missing after 24 June until she saw videos and photos of him posted online.
Watch her story
I saw [my uncle] in a video laying on the ground and he looked dead… I have an uncle who lives in France who went to Spain to verify the news of the passing of Anwar, but the authorities in Spain didn’t allow him to do anythingHuwaida, whose uncle Anwar is presumed dead after his body was seen on video footage at Melilla
Truth, Justice and Reparation
The victims and their families deserve the truth, justice and reparations for the catalogue of human rights abuses committed on 24 June 2022 at Melilla.
There is compelling evidence that Moroccan and Spanish security forces used unnecessary and excessive force, committed acts which may amount to torture and other ill-treatment – including beatings even after people were restrained, and denied medical care to people injured by state officials, which in addition to causing pain and suffering, likely contributed to the at least 37 people dying, and many others being injured
They also failed to ensure that people’s right to seek asylum was respected, instead committing refoulement by forcing people back into the hands of Moroccan officials where they were at real risk of serious human rights violations.
Many people were forcibly transferred away from the border crossing, and many have been subjected to enforced disappearance, as their fate and whereabouts continues to be unknown.
Despite the evidence of such grave human rights violations, neither the Spanish not the Moroccan authorities have launched independent and impartial investigations, and no one has been held accountable.
Indeed, the authorities have continued to violate the right to information, truth and justice for the families and friends of at least 77 individuals who have not seen or heard from their loved ones since they were last seen in the hands of Moroccan forces that day.
The events at Melilla demonstrate that Spain’s (and Europe’s) harmful asylum policies and their efforts to externalize migration can have lethal consequences.
Spanish authorities have asserted that there are safe and legal routes to claim asylum available, but this claim has been shown to be unfounded at Melilla.
At this border on 24 June, people were subjected to deadly violence, which may amount to torture and other ill-treatment, refoulement, forcible transfer, enforced disappearances, amongst other egregious human rights violations, all at the hands of Moroccan and Spanish border guards.
Disturbingly, the relatives of those killed are being impeded rather than supported in the search for their loved ones. Six months on and we do not even know precisely how many people died that day, and
r the fate and whereabouts of at least 77 people is still unknown.
The failure to conduct impartial investigations into what happened that day not only breaches human rights obligations, but also shows a complete disregard for the victims and their families, and leaves open the possibility that such abuses could be committed again in future.