UN rights office in probe call, after Morocco-Spain migrant deaths, Texas tragedy, show need for safer pathways


Spanish enclave of Melilla near the border with Morocco. (image: Unsplash/Christelle Hayek)

The deaths of at least 23 migrants seeking to reach Spanish territory from Morocco should be investigated urgently by both countries, the UN rights office, OHCHR, said on Tuesday, reacting also to reports overnight of of least 50 migrants found dead in a truck in southern Texas.

The Morocco-Spain border incident took place last Friday when African migrants were reportedly “beaten with batons, kicked, shoved, and attacked with stones by Moroccan officials”, said OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani, in their attempt to scale the barbed-wire fence that separates Morocco from the North African, Spanish city of Melilla.

“This is the highest recorded number of deaths in a single incident over many years of migrants attempting to cross from Morocco to Europe via the Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta,” she said. “140 Moroccan border guards also reportedly sustained injuries.”

Border protection call

The OHCHR official urged Morocco and Spain to ensure that migrants’ human rights were protected at their joint border, and that border officers refrain from any use of excessive force.

An independent investigation was needed in view of the “competing accounts” of what had happened, she said.

“We also call on them to take to all necessary steps alongside the European Union, the African Union, and other relevant international and regional actors - to ensure human rights-based border governance measures are in place,” Ms. Shamdasani continued.

“These include access to safe migration pathways, access to individualised assessments and protection from collective expulsions and from refoulement, as well as from arbitrary arrest and detention.”

Texas truck tragedy

In a related development, Ms. Shamdasani expressed shock at reports that at least 50 bodies of migrants, according to latest news reports, had been found in an abandoned truck on the outskirts of San Antonio, Texas, apparently after crossing the border from Mexico.

Reports say that the deceased migrants included two dozen from Mexico, seven Guatemalans and two Hondurans, who had suffered heat stroke and heat exhaustion. Four children were among those who were found alive, and transported to hospital for treatment.

Three people have been arrested in connection with the horrific incident.

“This is not the first such tragedy, and it illustrates again the critical need for regular safe pathways for migration as well as for accountability for those persons whose conduct has directly led to such loss of life,” the OHCHR official said.

Asked by journalists in New York about the migrant deaths in Texas, UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric, said that it was important for both the US and Mexican governments to investigate and "bring to justice all those who were responsible for this horrific chain of events."

"This horror, I think, once again highlights the tragedy that migrants face and asylum seekers, and it also highlights the need for comprehensive strategies for safe, orderly and regular migration in the region."

Safe and orderly migration

The UN Committee on Migrant Workers joined the Office of the High Commissioner in calling on Morocco, Spain and the other States of the European Union to expand the availability of pathways for safe and orderly migration, and to take measures to guarantee and respect the right to seek and receive asylum.

The dead and wounded migrants, the Committee noted, "intended to cross the border in search of a better life based on their legitimate human rights."

He added that it is yet to be determined whether the victims died when they fell from the fence, in a stampede or as a result of some action by border control agents, for which they urged the two countries to carry out immediate and exhaustive investigations and to make hold those responsible accountable.

The Committee also fought for the guarantee of access to justice for the victims and their families. "The authorities must also provide full reparation for human rights violations, including violations of the principle of non-refoulement."

Support families in the transfer of bodies

He added that the Moroccan government has an obligation to preserve the bodies of the deceased, identify them, inform their families and provide the necessary support for the transfer of the bodies. As for the wounded, he stated that they should be given the medical care they need.

The independent experts that make up the Committee deplored the violations of the right to life enshrined in the International Convention on Migrant Workers and reminded all States that migrants should not be subjected to any cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

States must guarantee that all policies and practices on their borders fully respect all the obligations set forth in human rights laws, "ensuring the right to life, dignity, security and physical integrity of migrants in all circumstances," they pointed out.

To conclude, the Committee appealed to the international community and States to ensure that similar events do not occur again and called on all concerned governments of host and transit countries to offer migrants "security, dignity and humanity". in accordance with its international obligations.


By UN Migrants and Refugees News

News UN

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