Those who die to keep the EU safe: more migrant deaths at the Spanish border

Content warning for images of violence against undocumented migrants


Image above via The Local. Caption of the image at the site reads: “A Spanish Civil Guard officer helps out a sub-Saharan immigrant after entering Spanish territory”. File Photo: Desiree Martín/AFP

This week I’ve written about my opposition to the European Parliament’s recommendations for undocumented women migrants. As a feminist I am expected to support measures that supposedly improve the conditions of women. And yet, I see a photo like the above and I cannot avoid the deeply symbolic value: the agent of the State is a Spanish woman in charge of disciplining those who dare cross borders.

The photo above is part of a feature about the deaths of 13 migrants who tried to cross the border between Morocco and Spain in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta on the morning of Thursday, February 6th (as of this writing, yesterday morning). Ceuta and Melilla are two Spanish sites in African territory. Morocco has held a very long dispute over these territories in what they effectively consider an act of colonialism on their land. Because the European Union recognizes these territories as part of Spain, they are included in the violent tactics to prevent undocumented African migrants from crossing the border. A wired fence has been erected in place to prevent people from crossing through. Moroccan border police works in cooperation with Spanish authorities and Frontex (the EU border control police) to prevent these crossings. People travel very long distances sometimes in inhumane conditions to make it to this area.

This photo, also from 20minutos should how the fence between Spain and Morocco is set up. On one side, the armored border police, on the other, immigrants walking on the beach area.


Yesterday 13 migrants (twelve men and at least one woman) died while trying to get through the fence. Their bodies were washed by the sea while they tried to swim around the barbed wire. 20minutos reports in Spanish (translation here and throughout mine) 

The provisional death toll of undocumented migrants from sub Saharan Africa has raised to 13 after a group of 250 people attempted to cross through the beach. Francisco Antonio González Pérez, the government’s delegate in Ceuta emphasized the “unprecedented violence” displayed by the immigrants to attempt entry and admitted to the use of anti riot materials such as rubber bullets and blank ammunition in order to scare the immigrants off.

On another report about the deaths, 20minutos explains how the tragedy occurred

According to Government Delegate forces, the immigrants assaulted the border [NOTE: the word used by Spanish media is “asalto”, not that I am purposefully translating to pick biased terms, this IS the way media is reporting the deaths] at 7AM when they arrived from the hills close to Ceuta and stormed racing towards the border path. Some immigrants, in an attempt to avoid the Moroccan border police took to the sea. During the avalanche at least four died from crushing and another four by drowning [Note: this was an earlier report when all bodies had not been yet recovered]

20minutos also has a video at the site with images that show what the border between Spain and Morocco looks like. I have written about the militarization of EU borders and how the expansion of Frontex operations go hand in hand with discourses that portray undocumented migrants as a menace and a threat to European security. These images drive my ideas home much better than words ever could. From the video, some images:





From the feature at The Local about these deaths:

The tragedy took place after Moroccan security forces and Spain’s Civil Guard Police repelled the entry of up to 400 sub-Saharan immigrants, Spanish daily 20minutos reported.

The news comes just days after a video filmed by a Melilla-based NGO worker showcased how Spanish authorities were illegally handing back to Morocco dozens of sub-Saharan immigrants who had jumped the security fence into the Spanish North African enclave.

“Morocco doesn’t accept injured immigrants,” reads the video narration in reference to the controversial barbed wire put up several months ago in a bid to dissuade immigrants from crossing the border.

The law stipulates that immigrants who enter Spanish territory should be taken immediately to the closest police station where they are identified and have the right to a legal and medical assistance as well as an interpreter.

Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz admitted on Tuesday that there were “isolated cases” in which Spain’s Civil Guard breached legislation.

The footage also contradicts comments made by Spain’s delegate in Melilla, Abdelmalik el Barkani, who denied irregular expulsions ever took place.

Ceuta and Spain’s other north African enclave Melilla have the European Union’s only land borders with Africa.

They are seen as stepping stones to a better life in Europe for sub-Saharan migrants, who often risk their lives attempting to enter the tiny Spanish enclaves, either by sea or by storming the six metre (20 foot) barriers that separate them from Morocco.

The video mentioned above can be watched in its entirety here. However, since the captions are in Spanish, I have made a few screen captures and I’m providing English translations beneath each one so that those who watch the video know exactly what they are watching.


Melilla, January 2014, there’s been a fence crossing (a “fence jump”) 2 km from this spot.


This is the spot where immigrants are summarily expelled illegally (NOTE: an illegal expulsion is one where the undocumented person is not allowed to present their case in front of a court of law or immigration authorities)


The border door that communicates with Morocco is open. A person lays on the ground for two hours, next to the door towards Morocco.


SUVs arrive continuously, with their trunks full of people who have been detained in the city and are temporarily kept in the nearby ditch.


Almost all of these people appeared to be injured. Some of them cannot move and are literally dragged around.


Usually Moroccans do not accept injured people.


During more than two hours the traffic of vehicles with their trunks full of immigrants was incessant, some of the immigrants were severely injured.

With the European elections coming close this May more racist rhetoric is used by populist politicians that are forging pan European alliances. We constantly hear how the EU needs to defend itself from this immigrant menace and how European wellbeing is under constant threat from the invasion of undocumented migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. We must protect ourselves at all costs! we often hear in European media. The deaths of thousands of migrants escaping the structural poverty and conflict brought upon them by a long history of colonial interventions and global neoliberal capitalism is obviously a fair price to pay so that Europeans can sleep soundly in the knowledge that they are protected.

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