Morocco prosecutes 65 migrants involved in deadly Melilla incident

A protester holds a sign reading "You greet the Ukrainians with flowers but because we are black you send us to hell" outside Melilla's short-stay migrants centre CETI after at least 23 migrants died trying to reach the Spanish enclave, in Melilla, Spain, June 27, 2022. REUTERS/Stringer

RABAT (Reuters) - Moroccan authorities have begun prosecuting 65 migrants who joined Friday's mass attempt to cross into a Spanish enclave by storming a border post, leading to the death of at least 23 migrants, a judicial source said on Monday.

About 2,000 migrants took part in the attempt, triggering violent skirmishes with Moroccan security forces and Spanish border guards at the Melilla enclave, with about 100 managing to get across.

Moroccan authorities said the deaths resulted from a crush after what they called a stampede, and from migrants falling from a high fence. Scores more were injured, they said, along with dozens of Moroccan security personnel.

The Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH) organisation said 29 migrants had died, citing unnamed hospital sources.

On Sunday, the African Union voiced shock at what it called the violent treatment of migrants leading to deaths and injuries, and demanded an immediate investigation. Morocco and Spain have denied using excessive force.

The judicial source said most of those being prosecuted are from Sudan and that they face charges of igniting fires, attacking security forces and facilitating illegal border crossings.

AMDH said three of its lawyers would help represent the migrants in court.

Many other migrants detained by the authorities on Friday have been bussed to southern Morocco and released there, AMDH said, a practice Rabat began in 2018 to discourage illegal migration attempts.

Video AMDH issued of the aftermath of Friday's disaster showed dozens of African men lying piled alongside each other, many apparently lifeless, some bleeding and some making feeble movements while Moroccan police stood over them.

AMDH said the injured were left unattended for hours, adding to the death toll. Some of the footage showed Moroccan security officers striking men lying on the ground.

Moroccan authorities shared their own footage of the border storming with African ambassadors, an official source said, including police efforts to clear migrant camps from forest areas near the enclave before the raid.

The source said Rabat had not published the video, but confirmed that it was one published by a local French-language news website.

It showed a very large group of migrants storming the fence using sticks and throwing rocks as they clashed with security guards who used tear gas to try to disperse them.

At one point, a section of fence collapsed under a large group trying to climb over it, with many falling several metres.

The official source said the cause of the crush was a concentration of migrants trying to breach a particularly narrow gateway at the border crossing.

Spain will use a NATO summit in Madrid this week to seek increased intelligence sharing on issues relating to migration, two diplomats told Reuters.

(Reporting by Ahmed Eljechtimi, Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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