From file: migrants on the fence between Morocco and Melilla, Spanish enclave on the north of Africa, as they shout crying for help and asking for refuge. | Credit: EPA/SANTI PALACIOS
From file: migrants on the fence between Morocco and Melilla, Spanish enclave on the north of Africa, as they shout crying for help and asking for refuge. | Credit: EPA/SANTI PALACIOS

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg ruled Spain must pay 5,000 euros in damages to two migrants it expelled back to Morocco. The migrants were stopped after scaling the border fence surrounding the Spanish enclave of Melilla.

The case was brought to court by several Spanish NGOs, including Caminando Fronteras, which said the victory is important because it puts an end to a policy that Spain has been following since 2015. 


NGOs, ruling is turning point in policy on Morocco enclaves 

The ruling represents an important precedent on procedures that Madrid follows at the borders of its enclaves. This is the first time the ECHR has ruled on collective expulsions from Spain to Melilla.The two migrants, one from Mali and the other from the Ivory Coast, were sent back to Morocco with about 70 others in 2014. Judges rejected Madrid's case that the expulsion took place outside Spanish territory and therefore couldn't be considered a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. 

The Strasbourg Court said "it's not necessary to establish whether the two men were on Spanish territory or not, given that from the moment they climbed down the fence they were under the exclusive control of Spanish law enforcement". The NGOs said the two men were handcuffed and given to the Moroccan authorities "against their will and without any prior administrative or judicial measures". 

Migrants' story, supported by NGOs, accepted 

The ruling, which constitutes jurisprudence applicable to many other cases of allegations, validates the migrants' story, which was corroborated by various testimonies gathered by UN Refugee Agency UNHCR and several videos. According to the decision, the two migrants were immediately handed over to Moroccan authorities "without having access to interpreters and legal assistance to inform them of the laws pertinent to the right of asylum and of procedures against their expulsion". 

In other words, following the criteria that Spain applies to all summary expulsions, the so-called "devoluciones en calientes" (hot returns) from 2015, when the Madrid government legitimised them by law. Spain can, however, appeal the decision.
 

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