Moroccan court sentences 33 migrants to jail over Melilla border crossing
A court in Nador has sentenced 33 migrants to 11 months behind bars for “illegal entry” and “disobedience.” Rights groups have slammed the decision, urging the court to overturn the decision.
A Moroccan court on Tuesday, July 19 sentenced 33 migrants to 11 months in prison for “illegal entry onto Moroccan territory.” The migrants attempted to cross a border wall separating the North African country from the Spanish enclave of Melilla in June.
Authorities say the migrants were mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, with the majority having traveled from Sudan and Chad.
The migrants were also accused of “disobedience,” “armed gathering,” and “violence against public officials.”
The court in Nador, close to the border with Melilla, ordered the 33 migrants to each pay fines of 500 dirhams (€48, $49), and 3,500 dirhams to settle civil rights claims from members of the public services, in addition to 11 months’ imprisonment.
The Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH) called the sentencing “very harsh,” and urged the court of appeal to overturn the decision. The rights group is expected to present the results of their investigations into the incident in Nador later on Wednesday.
What happened in Melilla?
Hundreds of migrants tried to scale the iron border fence between Morocco and Melilla on June 24. A spokesperson for the Spanish government’s office in Melilla said around 2,000 people tried to cross, but many were stopped by Spanish Civil Guard police and Moroccan forces on either side of the border. At least 133 migrants did manage to cross the border.
At least 23 people died in the attempt, which Moroccan authorities have called a stampede. Spanish rights group Caminando Fronteras (Walking Borders) says as many as 37 people lost their lives in the incident.
According to a statement from Morocco’s Interior Ministry, the fatalities occurred when people tried to climb the fence. Morocco’s state-backed CNDH rights group defended Moroccan authorities and stated last week those who died likely “suffocated.” The CNDH said “the large number of migrants” carrying sticks and stones posed a threat to authorities.
The United Nations and the African Union, meanwhile, have decried the use of excessive force by Moroccan and Spanish security personnel.