Despite repeated denials by the central government delegate in Ceuta and the director general of the Civil Guard, Arsenio Fernández de Mesa, the Spanish interior minister this week confirmed that rubber used were used to repel a mass attempt by would-be immigrants to reach European soil via the Ceuta border fence.
Appearing before a congressional interior committee on Wednesday, Jorge Fernández Díaz stated that the use of force was “proportional” to the situation and that shots were fired in a purely “dissuasive” manner, confirming what NGOs and people involved in the incident have been saying for the past week. As many as 14 sub-Saharan immigrants are thought to have died when several hundred people rushed the border defenses in the Spanish exclave. As of early Thursday night, 12 bodies had been accounted for. Security personnel blocked their passage, leading to numerous people jumping into the Mediterranean Sea in an attempt to circumvent the sea wall that marks the line between Spanish and Moroccan territory.
The minister said that although rubber bullets were used, none were fired at the migrants. He added that the security forces had helped around two dozen out of the water and into Spanish territory. NGOs have said that the use of rubber bullets, smoke canisters and the fear generated contributed to the tragedy, but the minister denied this, describing the level of force used as “strictly necessary.”
Fernández Díaz’s denial that security personnel targeted the migrants with rubber bullets could lead to indirect responsibility for the tragedy being scrutinized further: the complaints lodged by the NGOs did not contain any such reference. The minister said that the shots were fired into the sea a distance from where the immigrants were and that “when the officer [in charge] realized that the lives of the immigrants could be in danger” he immediately ordered the firing to stop.
The government delegate in Ceuta, Francisco Antonio Fernández, flatly denies that rubber bullets and smoke rounds were used, while De Mesa said on the SER radio network that “there were no shots fired into the sea. The information I have is that they were used on the border fence;” exactly the opposite of the minister’s version. Opposition deputies in Congress berated Fernández Díaz for offering a “fourth official version” of events. The Socialists (PSOE) have called for De Mesa to resign his post with immediate effect.
If the [people who died] were white, Spanish and with an identity card somebody would not have gone to their job today,” said the PSOE secretary for institutional relations, Antonio Hernando. "After listening to the interior minister [on Wednesday] I can’t help thinking that if the 12 people killed were not black, poor and undocumented somebody would have resigned already."
The Civil Guard, meanwhile, has asked for a “clear protocol” to be established to dictate how border guards should react to such situations – essentially if they should try to push mass attempts back or help people to safely cross the frontier. “If there is no consensus among politicians over protocol, it is not clear how [officers] should act on the frontier,” the Civil Guards AUGC association said.