Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 17 January 2020

More than 100 NGOs accuse Spanish government of illegally returning migrants to Morocco

Migration organisations have reported the first deaths of 2020 in the Mediterranean

The Spanish enclave of Melilla is a focal point for migrants trying to reach Europe from Africa. Getty Images
The Spanish enclave of Melilla is a focal point for migrants trying to reach Europe from Africa. Getty Images

Almost 120 human rights groups have called for an investigation into potential human rights violations by authorities in Spain after the expulsion of 42 migrants to Morocco.

A statement signed by 118 organisations denounced the expulsion of the migrants, including 26 women and two children, who they say had reached a Spanish island by boat last week.

The group said Spain’s Civil Guard handed the migrants over to Moroccan authorities within hours of discovering them on one of Spain’s Chafarinas islands.

The Chafarinas are a group of three islands located around 3.5 kilometres off the coast of Morocco. They have been a Spanish territory since their capture in 1848 and are sparsely populated.

“These people were waiting for hours in Spanish territory without any assistance,” said Helena Maleno, head of one of the signatories, Walking Borders.

The group claims the return breached European human rights laws which state that undocumented migrants arriving on European soil should be looked after and have their asylum claims processed.

“Human Rights organisations are aware that these 42 people arrived to Chafarinas at dawn and they were not assisted until they were returned to Morocco,” the statement read.

The group said several of the migrants found on the island were injured, and added that one child “was very sick”.

According to Walking Borders, which has spoken with the migrants after their return to Morocco, at least two people were taken to hospital.

The organisations said that “we are facing a serious violation of human rights”.

Spanish officials claim that the migrants never set foot on the island but confirmed that the migrants had been returned to Morocco last week.

Walking Borders disputes the government’s version of events and published GPS data and photographs which they say prove the boat made it to Spanish soil.

In one photograph, the migrants can be seen sheltering under blankets and plastic sheeting on rocks.

The Spanish interior ministry has been contacted for comment.

Spain was criticised by the European Court of Justice in 2017 for sending two migrants back to Morocco.

Almost 400 migrants arrived in Spain from Morocco in the first week of 2020, according to Ali Zoubeidi, a researcher at Université Hassan-Ier in Morocco.

At least 16 people are known to have died attempting to reach Europe across the Mediterranean so far this year.

Updated: January 7, 2020 07:54 PM

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