Madrid on Monday continued to blame human trafficking mafias for the deaths of dozens of migrants who tried to cross the land border from Morocco into Spain.
In a press conference, Isabel Rodriguez, spokesperson of the Spanish government, lamented the loss of life but applauded the collaboration of Spanish and Moroccan authorities to protect the Spanish border.
“To avoid these tragedies, this suffering, what we must do is combat the mafias that traffic human beings,” she said, not allowing the far-left Podemos minister Irene Montero to answer questions about what happened on the border fence.
However, several NGOs, activists and politicians say the violent repression at the border on the part of Spanish and Moroccan authorities led to the deaths.
The tragedy occurred on Friday when around 2,000 Sub-Saharan migrants stormed the border of the Spanish enclave of Melilla.
Spanish and Moroccan authorities used tear gas, stones, batons and rubber bullets to stop them from climbing over the militarized border.
Images from the scene show what appear to be bodies and severely injured migrants strewn across the ground without receiving medical attention. Others show the migrants, some with clear injuries, piled up on the floor with their hands tied behind their back.
“These were horrifying deaths, the scenes from Melilla are downright dystopian, exemplifying everything that is unconscionable about Spain and the EU’s approach to migrants and refugees, particularly if they are Black or brown,” Judith Sunderland from Human Rights Watch told the Guardian on Monday.
Hitham, a 22-year-old from Darfur, was one of only 133 migrants who managed to cross the border on Friday. Hadid, his childhood friend, who was crossing with him, was killed.
“Moroccan agents beat him, and that’s why he died. I’ve been crying every day,” he told Spanish daily El Diario.
Chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat also expressed his shock and concern on the “violent and degrading treatment of African migrants.”
Like several NGOs, he called for an “immediate investigation into the matter” and reminded countries of their “obligations under international law to treat all migrants with dignity and to prioritize their safety and human rights, while refraining from the use of excessive force.”
Politicians from Algeria and Colombia have decried what happened on the border as “a massacre.”
An investigation, however, looks increasingly unlikely as Moroccan authorities were photographed digging around 20 graves for the migrants on Sunday.
"Without investigation, without autopsy and without identification, the authorities seek to hide the disaster. A true scandal," said Moroccan human rights group AMDH Nador.
Head of the Spanish refugee agency CEAR has also criticized the “coverup” and “impunity” surrounding the 37 deaths.
“There was an indiscriminate use of force. And this is extremely worrying because there were a lot of young people from Sudan and Chad, who are eligible for international protection. If they had reached Spain, they would have had a good chance, 80%, of obtaining international protection,” Estrella Galán said in an interview with Spanish broadcaster Cadena Ser.