Thousands of people in several Spanish cities protested Friday over the deaths of at least 23 migrants last week at the frontier between the Spanish enclave of Melilla in Africa and Morocco, amid growing calls for an independent, cross-border investigation into the incident.
The demonstrations were being held under the moniker “Las Vidas Negras Importan” in Spanish or “Black Lives Matter” in English.
The deaths occurred June 24 during repeated attempts by sub-Saharan migrants and asylum seekers to scale the border fence separating the territories. Moroccan authorities said the migrants died as a result of a stampede but protesters are blaming officials and Europe’s migration policies.
In Madrid, demonstrators filled Callao square and held signs that read “Borders Kill” and “No human being is illegal.” In Barcelona, participants marched as they chanted against racism and colonialism.
In Rabat, the capital of Morocco, some 40 people held placards splashed with red paint, emulating blood to demand justice for the dead migrants.
"We are here to express our anger about the massacre that took place in Melilla," says Mamadou Diallo, a coordinator with the Collective of Sub-Saharan Communities in Morocco. "We have issued recommendations to the Moroccan authorities, who are responsible for setting up an independent investigation to identify those responsible for this massacre, but above all for the identification of all the remains, in order to return their bodies to their relatives or to bury them in humane conditions,"
Videos and photos that emerged in the days following the deaths sparked outrage and condemnation by several human rights groups and officials, including the United Nations secretary-general, Antonio Guterres.
In one video shared by the Moroccan Human Rights Association dozens of young African men, some of them motionless and bleeding, are seen strewn on the ground as Moroccan security forces stand over them. One uniformed man is seen poking a body with his baton.
In another video, a group of migrants is seen climbing a fence, some hurling rocks at Moroccan anti-riot police trying to stop them. At one point, the fence collapses, sending them to the ground from a height of several meters.
Spain’s state prosecutors announced the launch of a probe “to clarify what happened” given the “significance and seriousness” of the events at the Melilla border.
Morocco’s Human Rights Association contested the official death toll, reporting instead that 27 migrants had died, while the Spanish NGO Walking Borders is reporting 37 fatalities.
Authorities in Morocco and Spain also reported that 140 security officers on the Moroccan side and 60 National Police and Civil Guard officers on the Spanish side, were injured.
The dead have yet to be identified.