CIVICUS speaks with Solidary Wheels about the deadly consequences of European governments’ anti-migrant policies, in light of the deaths of migrants at an attempted crossing of the Spain-Morocco border on 24 June.
Solidary Wheels is a Spanish civil society organisation (CSO) that aims to challenge European border policies and the constant violation of the fundamental rights of migrants and refugees. It promotes a dignified life for people who migrate to Europe by reporting human rights violations at borders and providing migrants and asylum seekers with legal and medical support, among other services.
What led to the 24 June tragedy in the Spanish enclave of Melilla?
It is important to state that the sad events of June 2022, when at least 23 people are reported to have died in an attempt to cross the border between Morocco and Melilla, are a human-made tragedy, unlike natural catastrophes that are usually associated with such a term in the news. Tragedies such as an earthquake or a volcanic eruption cannot be avoided, but the circumstances that led to the 24 June events in Melilla could have been.
Melilla and Ceuta are autonomous Spanish cities located in North Africa on the Mediterranean Sea. Bordered by Morocco, these Spanish enclaves are part of the European Union, meaning that people seek to access them to enter Europe.
The multiple deaths at the attempted crossing are a direct result of recent political decisions made by the Spanish and Moroccan governments after both countries restored normal diplomatic relations in March 2022.
Shortly after, a new roadmap was announced for cooperation to control migration flows to Europe. Since then, the Moroccan authorities have perpetrated almost daily attacks and raids on Mount Gurugú on the north coast of Morocco to tighten control of its borders, as agreed. The heavy force used by Moroccan and Spanish security forces against people who manage to approach the fence can only be seen as a result of the normalisation of their relations.
How has Spanish civil society, including your organisation, responded to the official statements by the Spanish government on the incident?
Civil society organised protests denouncing the profoundly serious violation of human rights and the conduct of border officials. Demonstrations and rallies were held across Spain, even in small towns, where people raised their voices against migration policies that Spain, Morocco and the European Union promote and finance.
In the autonomous city of Melilla, migrants who had managed to reach the Centro de Estancia Temporal de Inmigrantes (CETI), the temporary holding centre for immigrants set up in 2000 by the Spanish government, organised a protest when they were released after six days of detention. The Spanish authorities allegedly detained them under a COVID-19 protocol. Many of them exposed the discrimination they faced throughout the process of their migration.
Another protest was held in the city centre on 1 July, with the support of the protest movement across Spain.
In general, how do you assess Spain’s immigration policy?
Spain’s migration policy, which responds to the guidelines dictated by European bodies, is based on a securitised and militarised vision of migration. The state’s official response reflected this vision, as showed by the statement of Spain’s Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez. He spoke of the June event as a ‘violent assault’, blaming traffickers for the deaths of migrants.
The political elite treats migration as a problem to be controlled, a phenomenon that endangers the welfare and values of our countries, and that must therefore be stopped at all costs. The reality is different: migration will not stop happening. Attempts to stop it will only cause more suffering for the migrants who pass through the checkpoints. We demand legal and safe channels for migration.
Do you think the attitude of the Spanish government points to a broader European pattern?
Absolutely. Spain is a simple executor of the decisions taken by the European Union. European borders are being externalised. This new form of immigration control policy has been seen, for instance, in Denmark offering razor wire to Lithuania to keep out refugees crossing from Belarus.
In our case, Morocco is doing the dirty work on behalf of Spain – in what our prime minister described as Morocco’s fight against ‘human trafficking mafias’ – but it is Europe that dictates the next step. That’s why we need international civil society and the international community to invest in lobbying activities in European and Spanish institutions to promote changes in immigration policies.
How have the June events affected your work with refugees and migrants?
No major changes have been made in our usual work with Moroccan youngsters, but we spent a couple of days talking about how they perceived the event. We seek to foster cohesion by providing psychological support through active listening, affection and understanding. The social and emotional support we offer allows for the creation of spaces for social and community development, and results in the creation of bonds of trust between us and young people.
Although there is a distance between the residents of the CETI and those who are homeless, many of them know each other or have friends in common, and they told us about the difficulties that their friends, residents of the CETI, have been facing, including in finding out whether their friends and brothers were alive or had been killed by the authorities.
To what extent do you collaborate with your counterparts in Morocco?
The Moroccan context is quite different from the Spanish one in terms of criminalisation and monitoring of CSOs. We know of entities working on both sides of the border, but we do not have continuous communication with them.
Civic space in Spain is rated ‘narrowed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.