immigration crisis

Moroccan officers crossing into Melilla to take back migrants, charges NGO

Government delegate states that sub-Saharans had been caught between the barrier fences

Moroccan security officers entered Melilla on at least one occasion last week to arrest and take back a group of sub-Saharan immigrants who had made it over the fence that divides the Spanish exclave from the North African nation, an NGO said Monday.

A video released by the Prodein non-profit organization shows images of immigrants who had been picked up between a Muslim cemetery in Melilla and the local temporary migrant shelter just hours after an attempt by groups of sub-Saharans to illegally cross the security barriers.

There have been reports in the past few weeks that Spanish security forces, including Civil Guard agents, have been handing over some migrants to their Moroccan counterparts. But this is the first time there has been video evidence showing Moroccan security forces crossing into the exclave to retrieve sub-Saharans with the help of Spanish authorities.

NGO Prodein's video showing the Moroccan officers crossing the border. / Vimeo

Spain’s immigration laws prevent the immediate expulsion of migrants seeking asylum without due process. At the same time, making the situation more complex is the fact that the Spanish government does not have treaties in place with most of the countries from where the sub-Saharans originate.

“They came into Melilla armed while the Civil Guard stood and watched,” said an outraged José Palazón, president of Melilla-based Prodein, about the Moroccan officers. “[The sub-Saharans] were expelled without even being identified, which goes completely against the current law.”

The central government’s delegate in Melilla, Abdelmalik el Barkani, has defended such “on-the-spot handovers” only if they are done in accordance with the bilateral treaty signed between Spain and Morocco, which came into force two years ago. But under that agreement, handovers cannot be carried out until the person is fully identified and authorities follow other requirements.

Nevertheless, the national immigration law is much stricter than the joint treaty and offers migrants many more guarantees. The Popular Party (PP) government has said that it will reform the law.

The government’s delegate on Monday said the migrants who had been returned had not reached the other side of the “anti-intruder barrier,” and explained that this was not the first time Moroccan officers have crossed over to help Spanish authorities “rescue” people trapped between the fences.

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