A crowd of protesters holds pictures of silhouettes.

Morocco/Spain: Agony goes on for families of missing and dead as Melilla cover-up continues

Families of the dead and missing are trapped in limbo as their attempts to find out what happened to their loved ones and efforts to ensure justice, truth and reparation are being impeded in an apparent cover up by Spanish and Moroccan authorities, said Amnesty International on the eve of the first anniversary of the deadly events that took place on the border of Spain’s Melilla enclave.

At least 37 people died after around 2,000 Sub-Saharan African migrants and refugees attempted to cross from Morocco to Spain on 24 June 2022. At least 76 are still missing. Authorities in Spain and Morocco have so far failed to conduct an effective independent investigation, leaving scores of grieving families in anguish.

“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. Bodies are still lying in a morgue and in graves and efforts to identify the dead and inform their relatives have been blocked,” said Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Agnès Callamard.

“Barriers to truth and justice are also a reflection of the continuing harmful treatment based on race and migration status. Yet as hopes of finding the missing 76 alive recede, the demand on the authorities to provide truth and ensure justice for the victims and their families is growing ever louder.”

One year on from the tragedy, authorities have failed to make any attempt to repatriate victims’ remains and at least 22 bodies are still at a morgue in Morocco.
Authorities in Spain and Morocco have failed to provide a full list of victim’s names and their causes of death as well as CCTV footage which could inform an investigation. In addition, they have failed to adequately investigate actions which constitute crimes under international law and human rights violations or to investigate racism and discrimination at the border.

Spanish authorities refused to open an independent probe and in December 2022, prosecutors dropped their investigation into the deaths saying that they found no evidence of criminal misconduct by Spanish security forces.

Moroccan authorities have not launched any investigation into the use of force by its border officials and have made it practically impossible for families and NGOs to carry out searches for the missing and dead. Amnesty International’s written requests to the Moroccan and Spanish governments asking them to share information, have so far gone unanswered.

Meanwhile, Spanish authorities have continued conducting unlawful practices at borders, such as collective expulsions – often involving the excessive use of force. At the Moroccan side of the border, and as a result of the cooperation between the two countries, Moroccan authorities continue preventing Black Sub-Saharan Africans from reaching Spanish territory to apply for asylum at the border post.

A 2022 Amnesty International report found that the tragic events of June 2022 were predictable and the loss of life, avoidable. In November 2022, the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, xenophobia and related intolerance, said that the Melilla violence “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.”

“We are just immigrants and we are human beings. We are not animals. We need respect like anyone,” Aboubida from Sudan who was beaten, tear gassed and denied medical assistance in Melilla, told Amnesty International today.

“What happened in Melilla is a salutary reminder that racist migration policies aimed at fortifying borders and restricting safe and legal routes for people seeking safety in Europe have real and deadly consequences. It is hard to escape the racialized element of what happened in Melilla and the dehumanising way in which Black people are treated at Europe’s borders, when they are living, missing or dead,” said Agnès Callamard.

“A year ago, amid a growing mountain of evidence of serious and multiple human rights violations, Amnesty International demanded an urgent and impartial investigation into the deaths in Melilla. One year on, the conclusion that we are facing a deliberated and concerted coverup is becoming harder to avoid. 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, and the suffering of people seeking protection, compounded.”


See Amnesty International’s 2022 report “They hit him in the head to see if he was dead”: Evidence of crimes under international law at the Melilla border