Documentary | Reconstructing the truth about the migrant deaths on the border of Morocco and Spain’s Melilla

A joint investigation by EL PAÍS and Lighthouse Reports reveals new details about the events through the analysis of more than 140 videos, 40 interviews and the 3D reconstruction of the border post

Video: El país | Lighthouse Reports

The death of at least 23 people on June 24 at the border post of Barrio Chino, between Nador (Morocco) and the Spanish exclave city of Melilla, left many questions unanswered. Five months later, a joint investigation by EL PAÍS together with Lighthouse Reports, Le Monde, Der Spiegel and Enass reveals new details about the events.

The investigation shows how authorities in Spain and Morocco reacted to a crowd surge that left people in need of help in both countries. Moroccan officers kept firing tear gas into a dead-end compound and responded with brutality. The Spanish agents, meanwhile, did not assist the victims of the pile-up, despite the fact that the Guardia Civil helicopter was filming events as they unfolded. One of the 35 witnesses interviewed claims that one person died on the Spanish side. The Moroccan agents appear in a video confirming this death.

Our team sourced and analyzed 145 video clips from online platforms related to the events. Additional unpublished visual evidence was collected from press and government sources. We then geolocated, synchronised and sorted this material, placing it on a timeline.

We later gained access to the Barrio Chino border post in Melilla and made recordings of the interior. Using this material as reference alongside LiDAR data, we built a detailed 3D model of the border crossing and the surrounding area. Once constructed, we used this model to understand the layout of the crossing, especially as it related to visual evidence and witness testimony.

With reporters on the ground from both sides, in Morocco and Melilla, we traced 40 of the witnesses and survivors from the day to gather testimony. We also conducted confidential interviews with senior officers in Spain’s Guardia Civil law enforcement agency. They drew the border for us, and described how the events on the 24th unfolded. In Melilla, a high-ranking officer told us that deaths “probably” took place in Spain. This is the first time a police official in Spain has made an admission of this kind.

The 3D model was used to help survivors walk us through the events of 24 June, allowing them to place the incidents on each side of the border. We spoke to several people who can be seen in the footage of the day.

Our reporters were able to see hours of unpublished footage of what happened, which revealed how a deadly crush took place partly inside Spanish territory.

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