Spain’s government came under fierce criticism this week after proposing an amendment to Spain’s Aliens law in order to allow the summary return of migrants attempting to cross the border in Ceuta and Melilla – “rejections at the border”, in the language of the Spanish government.
“Foreigners who are detected at the border in Ceuta in Melilla, attempting a non-authorised crossing of the border, in a clandestine, flagrant or violent way, will be rejected in order to avoid their illegal entry in Spain”, the amendment reads.
ECRE Member Organisation CEAR underlined that it is not possible to apply a special regime in Ceuta and Melilla that does not comply with the safeguards established by Spain’s Aliens law and European and international legislation. The NGO stresses that people who are intercepted at the borders must be identified, have the possibility of applying for asylum and have access to legal assistance. Paloma Favieres, from CEAR, said: “Returning people to the other side of the fence without identifying them is collective expulsion, which is a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.”
ECRE’s Secretary General Michael Diedring, said: “The borders at Ceuta and Melilla can’t turn into some kind of lawless ‘Wild South’. As part of Spain and part of Europe, Spanish, European and International legislation applies in the two Spanish cities. The Spanish government should ensure that the rule of law is upheld at its borders, in particular the right to asylum and the principle of non refoulement. This requires the observance of procedural safeguards such as an individual assessment of protection needs, access to legal assistance and to an effective remedy. It should therefore withdraw this proposal which, if adopted, risk institutionalising push-back policies at Spain’s and the EU’s external borders. The European Commission should take the necessary steps to ensure that Spain respects fundamental rights and stops the push-backs and ill-treatment of migrants and asylum seekers in Ceuta and Melilla”.
In an indictment regarding summary returns on June 18 and August 13 a Melilla judge confirmed that the Spanish border begins at the outside fence and that all areas between the fences are on Spanish territory. The Spanish government has justified this kind of returns by arguing that migrants are not in Spain until they have crossed a line of police officers.
NGOs have documented summary returns in the Spanish cities on the North African coast for years.
A judge is already investigating the death of at least 15 people and the alleged summary return of 23 people from Ceuta in February this year. These people were part of a larger group of reportedly more than 200 attempting to enter the Spanish city of Ceuta on the North African coast. The Spanish Minister of the Interior acknowledged the use of anti-riot material (rubber bullets and blank cartridges) to “deter” migrants from reaching Ceuta and confirmed that 23 people had arrived at the Spanish beach of El Tarajal, in Ceuta, and were immediately handed over to the Moroccan authorities.
Last week, the rights group Prodein disseminated a video, showing a man, whom Prodein identified as a 23-year-old Cameroonian named Danny, being beaten by Guardia Civil officers while climbing down a ladder on the Spanish side of the fence, in Melilla. Then the man is shown being carried, apparently unconscious, to the Moroccan side of the border.
The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, has urged Spain to open an investigation to establish accountability for police violence and stressed that “When migrants reach a Council of Europe country, the State authorities have the duty to examine their situations individually and allow them to seek asylum. It is illegal for a state to simply push them back. Spain has failed to uphold its international obligations in this field — sadly, this is not the first time”. “Clear orders must be given to avoid the future re-occurrence of violence and discontinue current push-back practices” he added.
- Human Rights Watch, Spain: Excessive Force in Melilla. Ensure Accountability; Halt Summary Returns, 21 October 2014
- ECRE Weekly Bulletin, Death and summary returns at Europe’s doorstep: NGOs call on the European Commission to investigate border practices in Ceuta and Melilla, 14 February 2014
This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 24 October 2014. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.