Spain has started deporting illegal immigrants despite concerns about possible human rights violations while a new assault on the Spanish border by African immigrants resulted in six deaths.
Spanish authorities said they were not aware of the latest fatalities
The six would-be immigrants died, some shot dead by Moroccan police, as a mass attempt to storm the fence dividing Spain's north African enclave of Melilla from Morocco failed Thursday, a Moroccan interior ministry source told AFP.
"Confronted with the extraordinary violence of the attackers, who were driven by the energy of despair, the police legitimately defended their surveillance posts in front of the barrier and six immigrants died," the source said, adding another 30 were injured.
"Some were killed by shots fired by the police and others were killed tramped under their comrades," the source added, revealing police had arrested 290 people.
Spanish authorities in Melilla said they were not aware of any fatalities following the dawn assault.
Death toll rising
A similar assault on the border fencing in the twin Spanish north African enclave of Ceuta last week saw five immigrants die amid bitter controversy on whether Spanish or Moroccan police had fired on them.
Two of the dead who fell on the Spanish side of the border bore bullet wounds which Spain insisted had come from the Moroccan side.
The death toll for this summer's assaults on Ceuta and Melilla now stands at a combined 14.
Spain is deporting immigrants back to their home countries
The Moroccan authorities hailed the collaboration between Spanish and Moroccan security forces as a success while Melilla governor Juan Jose Imbroda said that "Moroccan forces collaborated, which is what we expected of them."
A series of assaults in recent weeks had seen several hundred make it into Spain despite efforts to drive them back, forcing Madrid and Rabat to address ways to address the immigration issue.
Immigrants insist they will do whatever it takes to reach the enclaves, the only European territories on African soil, and have continued to risk their lives even as the size of the fencing has been double from three to six meters (10 to 20 feet).
A precedent case
Providing long-term help will be an ever greater challenge
Spanish Interior Minister Jose Antonio Alonso told legislators Thursday that the shots which had hit the immigrants who fell on the Spanish side of the fencing at Ceuta a week ago "do not correspond to Spanish civil guard-issue ammunition" as he appeared to pin the blame on Moroccan security forces.
Alonso added the Spanish "did not use live ammunition" in trying to repel the immigrants at Ceuta on Sept. 29 and was "firmly convinced" that those who died had not died at Spanish hands.
Moroccan sources have insisted their troops were not authorized to fire and that they did not so do. That line of argument, however, disappeared with the announcement of Thursday's fatalities.
"Moroccan and Spanish forces managed to stop them with considerable anti-riot gear," Spain's Cadena Ser radio had reported earlier.
Thursday's mass action by immigrants who have spent months waiting their chance in the forest on the Moroccan side was the first which saw the authorities on both sides prevent them from entering Spain -- although Spanish police confirmed a report that one Malian national had made it across.
With several hundred immigrants having succeeded in crossing the double layer barbed wire fencing in previous assaults, Madrid said it was seeking Rabat's agreement to reactivate a 1992 accord on control of migration, which would see illegals returned to Moroccan soil. Under the 1992 deal, Morocco agreed to take back immigrants who had illegally entered Spain from its territory. In practice, the agreement has mainly been applied to illegal Moroccan immigrants, but rarely to those from other countries.
Alonso said a first group of 70 were on the point of being taken back to Morocco by sea.
Long-term solution needed
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is urging for an all-European effort to help the countries that immigrants come from
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero meanwhile said Madrid was working to resolve the issue.
"We are in the process of finalizing repatriation accords with Mali and Ghana," said Zapatero, adding to existing accords Spain has signed with Algeria, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Morocco and Nigeria.
But Zapatero admitted that as thousands flee drought and resulting famine in Africa "things will remain difficult for years to come if the whole of the European Union does not make a special effort to help these countries."
Human rights concerns
Human rights organization Amnesty International raised concerns about the possible mistreatment of illegal immigrants by Spanish authorities.
"It would be a fatal signal, if Spain wanted to back out of the Geneva Convention on protection of refugees," said AI asylum expert Wolfgang Grenz.
The Geneva Convention requires the participation of the UN refuge agency (UNHCR) in examining the reasons for illegal immigration, so that those fleeing from violence and discrimination in their home countries could receive the necessary protection. Most of the North African illegal immigrants to Spain, however, are driven by economic rather than political reasons.
"But for those who really fled repression and human rights violations in their home countries, extradition could be life-threatening," Grenz said.