On Friday June 24th 2022, approximately 2,000 migrants stormed the heavily fortified border between the Moroccan region of Nador and the Spanish enclave of Melilla. At least 23 migrants died and 140 police officers were wounded in the ensuing violence, according to Moroccan authorities.

It was the heaviest death toll in years of such attempts to cross the frontier into Melilla.

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.

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 metres.

“I am shocked by the violence on the Nador-Melilla border,” U.N. chief Antonio Guterres tweeted. “The use of excessive force is unacceptable, and the human rights and dignity of people on the move must be prioritised by countries.” 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.

In an exclusive interview with the Associated Press, Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez defended the way Moroccan and Spanish police handled the incident, calling the attempt “an attack on Spain’s borders.” Meanwhile, the dead have yet to be identified.

Omar Naji of Morocco’s Human Rights Association in Nador said they have been contacted by the families of young men from Sudan believed to be among the victims but have not been allowed to see the bodies or the dozens of injured migrants being treated at a local hospital.

Violence and political turmoil in Sudan have pushed thousands of Sudanese to seek asylum in Europe, including in Spain. On top of this a third of Sudan’s population currently face a hunger crisis.

The mass crossing attempt was the first since Spain and Morocco mended relations after a year long dispute related to Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony annexed by Morocco in 1976. The thaw in relations came after Spain backed Morocco’s plan to grant more autonomy to the territory, a reversal of its previous support for a UN-backed referendum on the status of Western Sahara.

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