37 dead on Spain's border with Morocco: will there be Justice and a systemic analysis of failings?

Analysis: The Spanish government lacks strategic clarity: do they want better border defences or to better manage the flows of people?
By Matthew Bennett
Jun 27, 2022, 11:59 pm

Morocco says there were 23. NGOs say there were 37. The chances of an independent investigation to find out the real number would seem to be slim. However many there are, they are dead, their bodies somewhere on the Moroccan side of the border with Spanish North Africa. An El Mundo journalist says he found the room where some of them had been stored the day after in nearby Nador: the smell was "unbearable". 23 or 37 dead out of perhaps 2,000 who tried to cross: 130 or so made it to Spain, according to the central government office in the Spanish North African city.

A video published by a Twitter account in Nador showed dozens of men dead or dying as Moroccan police looked on and did nothing. A video in Público shows Moroccan police crossing over to the Spanish side, beating the men a bit and then hauling them straight back across the border. Another video published by a Civil Guard union shows Spanish officers firing rubber bullets at the mass of men coming down off the fence on the Spanish side.

Pedro Sánchez said, in remarks that will surely haunt him in the future, that the situation had been "well resolved" by Morrocan authorities and the two police forces on the ground. Morocco "also suffers" pressure from migrations, said the Spanish Prime Minister, and this was a "violent assault". Such a remark would have outraged the left in Spain if it had been made by a conservative PP or alt-right Vox Prime Minister. The African Union wants an independent investigation. Its president, Moussa Faki Mahamat, expressed "deep shock" and said countries should be treating everyone "with dignity" and regard for their human rights. Morocco now says it was all organised by Algeria.

Two things should happen now that probabaly won't: a legal investigation to bring justice for the dead men and their families, and a systemic and strategic analysis of what the two countries and two continents (the European Union and the African Union) are really trying to achieve on the border with migration.

This is not the first tragedy or major incident. In 2014, on Tarajal beach in Ceuta, the other Spanish North African city, 15 migrants died in the sea trying to swim round the border fence. The Civil Guard fired rubber bullets at them in the water. Last year, some 8,000 migrants descended on Ceuta in one day as part of a diplomatic spat between Rabat and Madrid.

Clearly the current strategy and tactics are not working. Police are under resourced for the amount of people that sometimes rush the border. The number of officers and the tactics of tear gas, rubber bullets and batons don't seem to stop hundreds of migrants frequently reaching reception centres in Spain anyway, despite their best efforts. Clearly they are not stopping people getting through and clearly this way of organising the border between the two countries sometimes results in dead people.

What is not clear is what the Spanish government's national strategy really is: do they want to defend and control and close the border to stop people getting through or do they want to allow people to flow through more easily but somehow manage them once they arrive before sending them back. The first option would suggest a bigger, better fence, or even a wall, and more police or perhaps the involvement of the Army. The second option would also require more police with better systems and legislation and more diplomacy with Morocco.

The two states are responsible for creating the structures, systems and rules within which everybody on the border, both migrants and police officers, works and moves. 37 dead human beings are reason enough to think a bit better and to make improvements.

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