Spanish minister under growing pressure over border deaths

By RENATA BRIO, Associated Press

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Spain’s interior minister is under increased pressure to be more transparent about how Spanish security forces responded to the June storming of its border with Morocco that resulted in the death of at least 23 migrants in the North African enclave of Mélilla.

Spanish parliamentarians from all political backgrounds are pushing for the opening of a parliamentary inquiry, with some calling for the resignation of Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska.

The actions of Spanish authorities in Melilla on June 24 have come to light following a report by BBC Africa Eye, a British public broadcaster investigative programme, which claims the lifeless bodies of migrants were dragged outside of the Spanish-controlled territory of Melilla in Morocco.

Grande-Marlaska was also accused of hiding evidence, namely security footage, from investigators.

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New video of the border clash that leaked and appeared in Spanish media on Tuesday shows hundreds of men storming into a border post on the Moroccan side. At one point inside the closed area between the two countries, crowds rush in as they attempt to cross Spanish soil, causing a stampede. Among the migrants were many refugees from Sudan, according to human rights activists and Spanish media interviews.

“(Great) Marlaska needs to come forward and stop denying the evidence, as he has been doing for the past four months,” said Jon Iñarritu, a far-left lawmaker from the Basque region who traveled to Melilla with a parliamentary committee and had access to some of the previously withheld footage.

“We are now sure, with the images and the evidence, that a large part of the events undoubtedly took place in Spanish territory,” Iñarritu said.

Opposition politicians, including members of the conservative, far-right and Catalan separatist parties, have called on the minister to resign.

Grande-Marlaska denied the allegations, saying none of the deaths occurred in Spanish territory but rather on the Moroccan side and in a “no man’s land” between the two countries.

Addressing lawmakers a month ago, he described the migrant’s attempts to enter Melilla as “violent” and said Spain’s actions had been “proportionate”. On Monday, he repeatedly stood by his earlier comments.

“There were no deaths on Spanish territory,” the minister said.

Isabel Rodríguez, spokeswoman for Spain’s leftist government, said the government was collaborating with Spanish prosecutors’ investigation into what happened that day in June.

“We’ve been giving explanations from the start,” she said.

Video of the aftermath on social media at the time showed dozens of black men motionless on the ground as Moroccan guards stood by their sides. Other videos reportedly showed Spanish officers returning migrants to Morocco in what human rights activists and lawyers say are unlawful pushbacks. The Spanish mediator found that no less than 470 migrants had been forcibly returned to Morocco, many of them injured.

Human rights organizations say the official death toll of 23 is underestimated, and dozens more are still missing.

Follow AP’s coverage of migration issues at https://apnews.com/hub/migration

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