BARCELONA, Spain -- Thousands of people in several Spanish cities protested Friday over the deaths of at least 23 migrants last week at the frontier between the Spanish enclave of Melilla in Africa and Morocco, amid growing calls for an independent, cross-border investigation.
The demonstrations were being held under the moniker “Las Vidas Negras Importan” in Spanish or “Black Lives Matter” in English.
The deaths occurred June 24 during repeated attempts by sub-Saharan migrants and asylum seekers to scale the border fence separating the territories. Moroccan authorities said the migrants died as a result of a stampede but protesters are blaming officialsand Europe's migration policies.
In Madrid, demonstrators filled Callao square and held signs that read “Borders Kill” and “No human being is illegal.” In Barcelona, participants marched as they chanted against racism and colonialism.
“In order to protect their borders they killed a lot of Black people,” said Victoria Muñoz, a protester of African descent.
In Rabat, the capital of Morocco, some 40 people held placards splashed with red paint, emulating blood to demand justice for the dead migrants.
“The least we can do is voice our outrage and demand that the Moroccan state stop acting as Europe’s border police, because through this nefarious activity it is accountable for what occurred last Friday,” said Al-Tayeb Madmadh, a member of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights and one of the protest organizers.
Videos and photos that emerged in the days following the deaths sparked outrage and condemnation by several human rights groups and officials, including the United Nations secretary-general.
In one video shared by the Moroccan Human Rights Association dozens of young African men, some of them motionless and bleeding, are seen strewn on the ground as Moroccan security forces stand over them. One uniformed man is seen poking a body with his baton.
In another video a group of migrants is seen climbing a fence, some hurling rocks at Moroccan anti-riot police trying to stop them. At one point, the fence collapses, sending them to the ground from a height of several meters.
“I am shocked by the violence on the Nador-Melilla border,” U.N. chief Antonio Guterres tweeted this week. “The use of excessive force is unacceptable, and the human rights and dignity of people on the move must be prioritized by countries.”
Spain's state prosecutors announced the launch of a probe “to clarify what happened” given the “significance and seriousness” of the events at the Melilla border.
Morocco’s Human Rights Association contested the official death toll, reporting instead that 27 migrants had died, while the Spanish NGO Walking Borders is reporting 37 fatalities.
Authorities in Morocco and Spain also reported that 140 security officers on the Moroccan side and 60 National Police and Civil Guard officers on the Spanish side, were injured.
In an exclusive interview with the Associated Press, Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez defended the way Moroccan and Spanish police handled the incident, calling the attempt “an attack on Spain’s borders.”
Meanwhile, the dead have yet to be identified.
Omar Naji of Morocco’s Human Rights Association in Nador said they have been contacted by the families of young men from Sudan believed to be among the victims but have not been allowed to see the bodies or the dozens of injured migrants being treated at a local hospital.
Violence and political turmoil in Sudan have pushed thousands of Sudanese to seek asylum in Europe, including in Spain. On top of this a third of Sudan's population currently face a hunger crisis.
“We demand a thorough investigation to clarify who is responsible (for the deaths) as well as the necessary autopsies to identify the causes of their deaths,” he said.
Tarik El-Barakah in Rabat, Morocco and Hernán Muñoz in Barcelona, Spain contributed to this report.
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