Migrants in Morocco Are Sentenced in Attempt to Cross Into Spanish Enclave

PARIS – A judge in the northeastern Moroccan city of Nador sentenced 33 migrants to 11 months in prison on Tuesday and ordered them to pay small fines in connection with a mass attempt to cross into the region. Spain’s Melilla land last month, defense attorneys said.

The defendants are part of a group of 65 people, mainly from Sudan and South Sudan, charged with an attempt to cross the border in which at least 23 migrants died and several security personnel were injured, according to Moroccan authorities.

The men were convicted of crimes including “violence against law enforcement officers” and “illegal entry.”

A defense lawyer, El Kbir Lemseguem, said after sentencing that the prosecution had been marred by irregularities and that an appeal would be filed.

“According to the police statement, all 33 defendants are said to have admitted their crimes,” Mr. Lemseguem said. “But all statements have the same language; they were copied and pasted; it is the same statement used for each defendant. “

The rest of the group are being prosecuted with more serious crimes, he said. Their next hearing is scheduled for July 27.

Many of the defendants were “young and poor,” he added. “They are allowed to aspire to a better life.”

In their attempt to cross the border on June 24, at least 23 migrants fell to their deaths after trying to cross a high border fence, Moroccan authorities said. In the chaos, authorities said, dozens of migrants and an estimated 140 Moroccan security personnel were injured.

But the episode cast a harsh light on Moroccan authorities after disturbing images emerged of dozens of clearly wounded men piled up along the barricade, surrounded by barricades. Moroccan security officers in riot gear.

Morocco has defended its response.

In several statements, authorities said the clashes were caused by migrants inciting the storming of the border point with stones, sticks and edged weapons, and that the deaths were caused by stampedes.

However, local human rights activists accused security forces of indiscriminate use of force and said investigations into the event were insufficient, adding that the death toll was higher than officially announced. awake.

Omar Naji, vice president of the Nador division of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights, one of the largest NGOs in the country, said: “In the hours following the clash, no medical help was available. provided. “They were left on ground for several hours. “

Melilla and Ceuta, another part of Spain, have the EU’s only land border with Africamaking them frequent targets for mass border crossings.

The National Council on Human Rights (CNDH), a state-funded group, last week released a preliminary report on the case in June that supported the official line that the migrants may have died of asphyxiation. (An autopsy has yet to be performed.)

In the hours following the June episode, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of Spain said Spanish security forces had been working with their Moroccan counterparts to combat “a violent, organized attack good job”.

Several Moroccan and Spanish human rights groups have called for an independent investigation. Camille Denis, a representative of a Morocco-based anti-apartheid group known by its French initials GADEM, said she was concerned that attempts to cross the border could cause unrest. further discrimination against Black migrants in border areas and across the country.

“We know that human rights violations in border areas are frequent and alarming,” she said.

“But how did we get to such a level of violence and, above all, death? Or not support people in danger? ” she speaks. “We can only ask that these latest events do not lead to further discrimination against all Black foreigners.”

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