Spain denied visas to relatives of migrants drowned in Tarajal tragedy

NGO says Spanish embassy in Cameroon argued risk of illegal immigration

Aitor Bengoa

Spain denied entry visas to the relatives of migrants who drowned during a mass bid to enter the Spanish North African exclave of Ceuta in February 2014, a Spanish NGO said on Monday. Caminando Fronteras, which works with immigrants, made the accusation at an event in the Spanish Congress marking the third anniversary of the tragedy in which 15 people – most of them from Cameroon – died while attempting to swim around a seawall at the El Tarajal border crossing between Ceuta and Morocco.

Protesters at the site of the tragedy.
Protesters at the site of the tragedy.Paco Puentes

Helena Maleno of the NGO said Spain denied visas to relatives of the victims, which they had applied for in Cameroon in May of 2016. The purpose of travel was given as participating in the task of identifying bodies and in taking part in commemorative acts, Maleno said.

But the Spanish embassy in the capital of Yaoundé judged the family members couldn’t adequately establish their identity and that there was a risk of illegal immigration, Maleno added.

The investigation into the tragedy noted that the bodies of victims were not properly identified

An appeal against the decision was rejected and legal action is now being considered by the NGO.

Maleno also told deputies that the Spanish authorities had refused to carry out DNA tests on family members to help identify the bodies.

Spain’s Foreign Ministry has not commented on the decision to reject the visa applications.

The third anniversary of the incident has special significance, as the Ceuta seat of the Provincial Court of Cadiz recently decided to reopen the case after a group of NGOs including Caminando Fronteras lodged an appeal against an October 2015 decision to dismiss the case against 16 Civil Guard officers in connection with the drownings.

A captain, a lieutenant, a sergeant and other members of the Spanish law enforcement agency had been under scrutiny over their use of rubber bullets to contain a group of around 400 people who had gathered at El Tarajal beach.

El Tarajal is the only official border crossing between Morocco and Ceuta and is heavily fortified.

El Tarajal is the site of the only official border crossing between Morocco and Ceuta and is heavily fortified

During the border crossing attempt, the would-be migrants broke up into two groups, with one trying to reach Ceuta by foot at El Tarajal and the other diving into the sea in a desperate attempt to escape Moroccan authorities.

The judge dropped the case, ruling the Civil Guard officers had acted according to the law and because the circumstances “legitimized the use of riot equipment.”

But in deciding to reopen the case, the Cadiz court said it planned to clarify whether the Civil Guard officers had failed to perform their duties efficiently and competently, thus playing a role in the deaths of the 15.

One aspect of the investigation that was not carried out efficiently was the identification of bodies, according to the court.

Relatives of the victims continue to decry the fact the bodies have not been identified and that they do not know where they are buried, while no one has been brought to justice over the deaths of their loved ones.

English version by George Mills.

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