Video: Spanish police beat African migrants at Melilla border

A video has emerged showing police beating up African migrants at the Spanish border. About 200 African migrants who were trying to get into Melilla - a Spanish enclave in northwest Morocco - were reportedly beaten up by Spain’s Guardia Civil (police) on October 15.


Many African migrants, like Danny (in the centre of the photo), regularly try to scale the three fences separating Morocco from Melilla. Screen grab from a video filmed by the NGO  Prodein (Pro Derechos de la Infancia) on October 15. 

A video has emerged showing police beating up African migrants at the Spanish border. About 200 African migrants who were trying to get into Melilla - a Spanish enclave in northwest Morocco - were reportedly beaten up by Spain’s Guardia Civil (police) on October 15.

Nearly all of them were then illegally sent back to Morocco.

The immigrants, who hail from Sub-Saharan Africa, had tried to get past the triple fence separating Morocco from the Spanish enclave at about 6 am. Two men were beaten particularly badly by the Spanish Guardia Civil, including one named Danny, aged 23, from Cameroon. On a video broadcast by Prodein, a children’s rights NGO, policemen can be seen beating the young man with their batons as he climbs down a ladder. After being beaten over the head, Danny falls to the ground. He is then dragged off by the police, apparently unconscious.

“The images could not be clearer or more appalling,” said Judith Sunderland, senior Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch, after viewing the film.

Danny, a young man from Cameroon who tried to enter the Spanish enclave of Melilla, was injured by Spanish policemen. Video by Prodein (Pro Derechos de la Infancia).

"When migrants are injured but conscious, they're sent directly back to Morocco"

Robert Bonet is a freelance photographer. He witnessed the police’s brutal treatment of the migrants last Wednesday.

I arrived on the scene at 9 am, three hours after the migrants started to rush the border. I learned that 200 people had set out to try to get into Spanish territory. But only about 100 of them were scaling the fences when I got there; the Moroccan police had blocked the others.

The border is composed of three Spanish fences. Just a few metres away, another fence is being built on the Moroccan side. When it’s finished, it will become even harder for migrants to get through and the Moroccan police will have more time to intervene.

On Protein’s video, you can see migrants – for the most part from Cameroon – who have reached the third Spanish fence. Danny, who was severely beaten, was taken to the hospital unconscious. Thankfully, he survived. Migrants who lose consciousness are always taken to the hospital by the police. However, those who are severely injured but still conscious are generally carried directly back to the Moroccan side. The police almost always use violence against migrants who try to scale the fences. On Wednesday, at least 40 of them were injured.

To justify this use of force, Melilla’s authorities issued a statement denouncing the migrants’ “extreme violence”, saying they carried “stones, sticks, ropes, hooks, knives and other sharp objects”. It also stated that some migrants had set fire to their clothes in order to throw them on the Spanish Guardia Civil. Five policemen were reportedly injured on Wednesday. However, only hooks, ropes, and a few sticks can be seen in the video published by the government (below) that shows what was confiscated from the migrants.

Bonet believes that the Spanish Guardia Civil are trying to portray the migrants as criminals.

“The ropes and hooks that you see in this video are used by the migrants to climb the fence, not to hurt the policemen. The Spanish Guardia Civil often try to distort the truth. They have never presented any proof that the migrants are violent. As for the fires, I didn’t see any when I arrived, so I can’t speak to that.

A video published by Melilla's authorities that show what was confiscated from migratns on October 15. 

"Once migrants are on Spanish soil, they can't immediately be deported"

Beyond the question of violence, sending migrants back to Morocco is contrary to the law, as Bonet explains:

Once they have crossed over the first fence, they’re in Spanish territory, according to a bilateral agreement signed by Spain and Morocco. This means that legally, they can’t immediately be deported back to Morocco, according to the Ley de Extranjeria [Editor’s Note: Spain’s law on foreigners entering its territory]. This law stipulates that once they’ve arrived on Spanish soil, migrants have the right to a lawyer and a translator, and to ask for asylum. They can only be deported once they’ve been refused asylum.

However, if the migrants haven’t gotten over all three fences, the Guardia Civil deems that they’re not yet in Spain and sends them back to Morocco. This is completely illegal. Moreover, they claim that they don’t send migrants back once they are over the third fence, but they still do it.

This protocol, which was signed by the head of the Spanish Guardia Civil, Ambrosio Martin Villasenor, thus goes against the Ley de Extranjeria. One month ago, a Melilla judge accused him of prevarication, meaning that he signed the document knowing full well that it was contrary to the law.

On October 17, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, wrote on his Facebook page that “it is now necessary that an investigation is opened to establish accountability for police violence”. He added that “Spain has failed to uphold its international obligations in this field – sadly, this is not the first time.” On October 20, the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) called on the authorities to “adopt the necessary measures” so that migrants’ rights are respected.

In the last few months, more and more migrants have tried to illegally enter Spain. In 2013, 4,235 of them managed to enter Melilla and Ceuta, Spain’s two enclaves in Morocco.

Another video filmed by the NGO  Prodein on October 15, showing an African migrant being illegally sent back to Morocco. He is carried by Guardia Civil officers who have tied his hands and feet.

Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Chloé Lauvergnier (@clauvergnier).