Over two dozen died in a stampede over the border between former Spanish colony and Melilla
More than two dozen migrants have died in a stampede while trying to cross into a Spanish exclave from Morocco, the latter's Association for Human Rights (AMDH) announced on Friday evening.
Around 2,000 people, many of them from Sudan, tried to cross a guarded border fence into Melilla at dawn on Friday. Harrowing images, published by the AMDH, show people lying on the pavement next to the border control area, some with blood-covered hands and torn clothes.
"AMDH Nador confirms that the death toll, as of 9pm, in the ranks of sub-Saharan migrants is 27 dead. All are at Hassani Hospital morgue in Nador. A very heavy, catastrophic record that shows that migration policies are deadly, with borders and barriers that kill," a caption to the photo reads.
The association called on the authorities to open "a serious investigation" to determine all the circumstances of the tragedy.
According to Morocco's Interior Ministry, some of the victims died of injuries sustained in the incursion while others fell from the top of the iron fence barrier. Dozens of migrants and security personnel were injured. Just 133 people managed to reach Spain.
According to an earlier statement from the Spanish government's delegation in the area, all of the migrants who "broke through the access gate of the Barrio Chino border checkpoint and entered Melilla by jumping over the roof of the checkpoint" were men and apparently adults. In a separate statement, the authorities said that a "large" number of forces were deployed by Morocco and that they "cooperated actively" with Spanish colleagues.
Speaking in Brussels, the Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, described the crossing as an "attack on the territorial integrity" of Spain and as a "violent assault," which he blamed on "mafias who traffic in human beings."
He also hailed the "extraordinary work of the Moroccan government in coordination with Spain to try to stop a violent assault, which was, in this case, well resolved."
Last year, Moroccan authorities were criticized for apparently loosening border controls to another tiny Spanish exclave, Ceuta, amid diplomatic tensions with Madrid over the treatment of Western Sahara's separatist leader Brahim Ghali for Covid in Spain. Thousands of unauthorized migrants crossed into Spanish territory.
Friday's tragedy became the first mass incursion since April, when Spain and its former colony Morocco ended a year-long diplomatic feud and decided to "usher a new phase" in bilateral relations.
The move has resulted in a significant decrease in the number of migrants arriving to Spain from Morocco.