Migrants climb the fences separating the Spanish enclave of Melilla from Morocco on June 24, 2022 | Photo: Javier Bernardo/AP/picture-alliance
Migrants climb the fences separating the Spanish enclave of Melilla from Morocco on June 24, 2022 | Photo: Javier Bernardo/AP/picture-alliance

The 23 migrants who died in June during a mass breach of the border at the Spanish enclave of Melilla likely suffocated, according to Morocco's state-funded National Council on Human Rights (CNDH). A doctor who examined the bodies further specified they had most likely died of "mechanical asphyxiation."

Adil El-Sehimi, one of the doctors who examined the bodies of the 23 migrants as part of a CNDH fact-finding mission, said that the manner in which they likely had died appeared to be "mechanical asphyxiation," which occurs when a person is prevented from breathing by a force or an object. 

The likely cause of the mechanical asphyxiation is a stampede in this context.

However, non-governmental human rights watchdog AMDH said the report was incomplete, calling for an independent investigation looking into the use of "unjustified force" during the incident. The Spanish government has also launched an investigation into the matter, but hasn't shared any findings yet.

Migrants run away from the border fence after crossing onto the Spanish enclave of Melilla on June 24, 2022 | Photo: Javier Bernardo/AP/picture-alliance
Migrants run away from the border fence after crossing onto the Spanish enclave of Melilla on June 24, 2022 | Photo: Javier Bernardo/AP/picture-alliance

Suffocation during a stampede

According to the initial CNDH findings, a large number of migrants, "armed with sticks and stones ... split into two groups: the first stormed a border post closed since 2018 and the second climbed nearby walls topped with barbed wire."

The report found that people had been crushed to death in a section of the border where there are turnstiles in place to make sure that only one person can cross at a time. With the turnstiles remaining closed, people were crushed in a stampede while trying to overpower the border in numbers.

"A large number of migrants found themselves crammed into this narrow area, resulting in jostling which led to migrants suffocating," CHDH said in its preliminary report.

Read more: EU, Morocco announce joint anti-trafficking effort after migrant tragedy

Incomplete account of events

There may, however be, other aspects that still need to be taken into consideration to form a bigger picture about the incident. Several intergovernmental organizations, including the United Nations and the African Union, have said that Moroccan and Spanish authorities had made excessive use of force during the mass breach, denouncing these methods squarely.


Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that a video showed a Moroccan security agent "beating obviously injured men prone on the ground and another agent throwing a limp body onto a pile of people."

However, CNDH, which is backed by the Moroccan government, defended the actions, as they were "isolated" instances. It said that the use of force was proportionate to the danger posed by "the large number of migrants" carrying sticks and stones, adding that the fact that law enforcement agencies had not used any firearms showed their measured response.

The Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, separated from Spain by the Strait of Gibraltar and the Mediterranean Sea | Credit: InfoMigrants
The Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, separated from Spain by the Strait of Gibraltar and the Mediterranean Sea | Credit: InfoMigrants


Read more: Kenya calls for UN probe into Melilla migrant deaths

Bodies yet to be buried

Amina Bouayach, the head of CNDH, meanwhile also confirmed the official death toll from the incident on June 24 as 23 victims in total. The Spanish Caminando Fronteras rights group claims that as many as 37 migrants may have lost their lives during the mass attempt to scale the fence in Melilla.

The incident on June 24 was reported to be the worst attempted crossing into Spain's enclaves in North Africa in years. Melilla and Ceuta are the only two land borders, which the EU shares with the African continent.

The bodies of the victims are yet to be buried, as autopsies have not yet been fully concluded, according to CNDH. The report said the bodies will also undergo DNA testing to help establish their identities.

Many of the people who stormed the border fortification reportedly came from Sudan, according to the Agence France Press (AFP) news agency.

Read more: Morocco postpones migrant trial after Melilla deaths

With AFP, AP

 

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