Spanish minister under growing pressure over border deaths

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Spain’s interior minister is coming under increased pressure to be more transparent about how Spanish security forces responded to a June storming of its border with Morocco that led to the deaths of at least 23 migrants in the North African enclave of Melilla.

Spanish members of parliament across the political spectrum are pushing for the opening of a parliamentary investigation, with some calling for Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska’s resignation.

The actions of Spanish authorities in Melilla on June 24 have been brought back to the spotlight following a report by BBC Africa Eye, an investigative program of the British public broadcaster, that claims the lifeless bodies of migrants were dragged from the Spanish-controlled territory of Melilla to Morocco.

Grande-Marlaska has also been accused of withholding evidence, namely security footage, from investigators.

New video of the border clash that leaked and was published Tuesday in Spanish media showed hundreds of men storming into a border post from the Moroccan side. At some point inside the gated area between the two countries, the crowd funnels as it tries to pass through to Spanish soil, causing a stampede. Among the migrants were many refugees from Sudan, according to human rights activists and interviews in Spanish media.

“(Grande-)Marlaska must appear and stop denying the evidence, as he has done in the past four months,” said Jon Iñarritu, a hard-left lawmaker from the Basque region who visited Melilla with a parliamentary committee and had access to some of the footage previously withheld.

“We are now sure, with the images and evidence, that much of the events undoubtedly took place in Spanish territory,” Iñarritu said.

Opposition politicians, including members of the conservative, far-right and Catalan separatist parties, have called for the minister to resign.

Grande-Marlaska has denied the allegations, claiming that none of the deaths occurred on Spanish territory but rather on the Moroccan side and in a “no man’s land” between the two countries.

Speaking to lawmakers a month ago he described the migrant’s attempts to enter Melilla as “violent” and said Spain’s actions had been “proportional.” On Monday, he repeatedly stood by his previous comments.

“There were no dead on Spanish territory,” the minister said.

Isabel Rodríguez, the spokesperson for Spain’s left-wing government, said the government was collaborating with Spanish prosecutors’ investigation into what happened that day in June..

“We have been giving explanations since the beginning,” she said.

Video of the aftermath on social media at the time showed scores of motionless Black men on the ground as Moroccan guards stood by them. Other videos allegedly showed Spanish officers taking migrants back to Morocco in what human rights activists and lawyers say were illegal pushbacks. Spain’s ombudsman found that as many as 470 migrants were forcibly returned to Morocco, including many who were injured.

Human rights organizations say the official death toll of 23 is an undercount, with dozens more still missing.

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