Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz on Tuesday announced that the Popular Party (PP) government is preparing a change in the immigration law to help civil guards facing mass attempts by migrants to cross the border into the Spanish North African exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. In particular, the objective is to change the law to make it easier for border authorities to send immigrants who make it across back into Morocco.
Currently, border guards consider a would-be immigrant not to have entered into Spain until they have “crossed the police line.” But this interpretation has been criticized, and is being viewed by observers as illegal. The government does, however, admit that this practice is testing the limits of the law, and as such wants to introduce reforms.
“The law is not designed for events such as the stampedes in Ceuta and Melilla,” Fernández Díaz said in the halls of the Senate after a tense session. “It is not the same as controlling the border at Barajas or Melilla [airports]. We are working on a reform to control the borders, so that the Civil Guard has adequate regulations to confront these situations.”
Earlier in the upper house he and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy vigorously defended the actions of civil guards at the Ceuta security fence on February 6, when 15 sub-Saharan migrants died as a result of a mass attempt to cross the border during which rubber bullets were fired.
Rajoy, speaking about the incident for the first time, expressed his “sentiments and sorrow” over the deaths in reply to a question from the Socialist spokesman asking who gave the order to fire the rubber bullets. The prime minister went on to repeat the words used by a Socialist member of government in 2005, when two people died at the Ceuta border: “There is a street saying used a lot in Mexico, which is when there is something suspicious in this country it is the police. Well, it looks like that there have recently been certain sectors who want to make the Civil Guard suspected of I don’t know what behavior, and I completely refuse to.”
Earlier in the Senate, PP Melilla premier Juan José Imbroda had called for on-the-spot handovers of migrants back to Morocco to be legalized to combat the pressure on the exclaves’ borders.
According to the current legislation in place, which the government wants to reform, when an immigrant is intercepted on the border they must be granted free legal representation and a translator. However, a 2012 agreement signed between Spain and Morocco allows for a quicker admission of foreigners who cross the Moroccan border. This gives border officials more flexibility, but it does mean that those crossing the border must be identified in a police station, something that did not happen in Ceuta, as is clear from the videos of the incident. The government is sticking to its argument that the immigrants did not enter Spanish territory on February 6, despite the images suggesting the opposite.
Speaking on Tuesday, Fernández Díaz stated that Spain was beginning to lose control over its borders and called for help from the European Union to strengthen the borders in its Ceuta and Melilla exclaves. “As well as giving advice, Europe needs to help with financing, given that Spain, which has invested nearly 60 million euros over the last five years, cannot deal with the problem alone. Countries that, like Spain, have an external EU border have the right to seek help and solidarity from the entire Union, to deal with a problem of these characteristics, one that has not been caused by Spain,” he said.
The minister also took the opportunity to criticize the European commissioner for home affairs, Cecilia Malmström, who took to Twitter and later used a spokesperson to criticize Spain’s use of rubber bullets against immigrants. “The Spanish ambassador for the EU has got in touch with Malmström’s office to offer her all of the information,” Fernández said. “We found out [about her comments] via Twitter, which is not exactly the best way to maintain a relationship between the European Commission and the member states.”
Malmström has already raised the ire of the Spanish government, when she criticized the use of razor wire on border fences in Ceuta and Melilla.