A protester is holding a placard expressing his opinion during a demonstration in solidarity with migrants. Hundreds of pro-human rights activists protested against deaths in Melilla after dozens of migrants died at the Spanish-Moroccan border

Morocco/Spain: Reveal fate of migrants who remain missing two years after deadly Melilla border incident

Moroccan and Spanish authorities must step up their efforts to uncover the fate of at least 70 men, mainly from Sudan and Chad, who remain missing, two years after a deadly crackdown by Moroccan and Spanish security forces against sub-Saharan Africans attempting to cross the border from Morocco into the Spanish enclave of Melilla, said Amnesty International today.

On 24 June 2022, at least 37 Black sub-Saharan African people, and hundreds of others were injured during the incident. Moroccan authorities announced that they had opened an investigation into the deadly events only a year and a half later in early 2024 and did not further communicate any results, while Spanish authorities continue to deny any formal responsibility.

“It is outrageous that two years on from the deadly Melilla border crackdown families of more than 70 who remain missing are still having to fight for answers about what happened to their loved ones at the hands of Moroccan and Spanish security forces. To date authorities in both Morocco and Spain have failed to ensure a transparent and effective investigation to provide victims’ families access to truth, justice and reparations. They must not be allowed to sweep this tragedy beneath the carpet any longer,” said Amjad Yamin, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

In June 2023 the UN Committee Against Torture highlighted the absence of an effective investigation into the deadly events of June 2022, urging Spain to promptly investigate the responsibility of security forces during the events and take steps to ensure such an incident does not recur.

So far Spanish authorities have denied any wrongdoing and continued to carry out unlawful collective expulsions to push back people at its borders.

To date authorities in both Morocco and Spain have failed to ensure a transparent and effective investigation to provide victims’ families have access to truth, justice and reparations. They must not be allowed to sweep this tragedy beneath the carpet any longer.

Amjad Yamin, Amnesty International

In recent weeks the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH)’s Nador branch reported that the authorities conducted secret burials of some of those killed. The organization said it had documented a number of corpses being retrieved from the morgue of Al Hasani hospital and taken to Sidi Salem cemetery in the presence of security forces. At least 13 bodies were buried between 6 and 12 June.

The corpses were buried in graves without any names, bearing only the date of the burial, cemetery serial number, and the individual’s sex.

The organization’s President, Omar Naji, told Amnesty International he had visited Sidi Salem cemetery to investigate and collect information.

“We believe this began in early June. According to our information on 6 June, they buried eight of those who died in the operation by Spanish and Moroccan border guards in 2022, and on 12 June five further men were buried,” he said.

“The reports that Moroccan authorities are carrying out secret burials of unidentified remains of migrants and refugees killed during the deadly events of June 2022 are deeply alarming. Instead of continuing to hide the truth, the authorities must ensure full transparency, and reveal the fate and whereabouts of all those missing, including the causes of death of those who have been buried. They must urgently allow families access to identify the bodies and appoint independent experts to carry out forensic analysis,” said Amjad Yamin.

In June 2024, Amnesty International spoke to the families of three missing Sundanese migrants and refugees who lost contact with their relatives in early to mid-June 2022. At least one has been confirmed dead. The other two remain missing to date.

Mahdi Abdallah Mohamed, from Sudan, described to Amnesty International his ongoing struggle to find out what happened to his missing brother Mohamed Abdallah Abderahmane Abdallah. He was last in touch with him on 14 June 2022.

“We are struggling, and each [person] is telling us a different story,” he said. “Until now I don’t know if my brother is dead or imprisoned and I’m not the only one… There are a lot of families in this situation.”

Maryem Babekr Mohamed Idriss said she last spoke to her 26-year-old brother Ahmed Babekr Mohamed Idriss on 7 June 2022. He told her he and others were getting ready to cross the borders in a few days. After 24 June she lost touch with him.

“On 24 June, the Nador branch of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights posted on their Facebook page that he was spotted in a local hospital and that he was wounded in the leg. Since then, we had no news about him, we were unable to locate him inside hospitals or prisons.”

Taycir Mounir Khamis, sister of Abd El Baset Mounir Khamis said she found out her brother went missing when one of his friends posted the news on a social media site in October 2022. The family later travelled to Morocco and found his body inside a hospital in Nadhor morgue.

 “After that, I began to search for him myself, to gather information and to see if he was dead, or inside a prison in Morocco. After some time, we confirmed he was dead, and that his corpse was kept inside a hospital morgue in Nadhor. We went through a lot of struggles searching for him,” she said.  

Amnesty International is calling on the Moroccan authorities to ensure families searching for relatives are able to access information, identify bodies and to repatriate the remains of anyone who has yet to be buried.

The Moroccan authorities’ failure to take any action to investigate security forces’ wrongdoing on the day of the killings in Melilla stands in stark contrast to how they treated the people who attempted to cross the border that day.  

According to AMDH at least 86 of those who tried to cross over to Spain were prosecuted and sentenced to up to three years in prison. Amnesty International has previously expressed concern that some of the survivors faced unfair trials.

“It is completely unacceptable that instead of truth and accountability, survivors and the loved ones of those killed have only been served injustice on top of injustice. The Moroccan and Spanish authorities must urgently comply with their international legal obligations, including by taking action to ensure such appalling loss of life and harm does not happen again in the future,”  Amjad Yamin added.