In a statement that was also co-signed by over 60 human rights organizations, human rights group Walking Borders denounced what they called the immediate expulsion of sub-Saharan migrants who had reached one of Spain’s Chafarinas islands by boat Friday. Located in the Mediterranean Sea, the Chafarinas islands are just 3.5 kilometers from the coast of Morocco.
The group said Spain’s Civil Guard returned the migrants to Moroccan authorities hours later in an alleged violation of the protections afforded by the European Court of Human Rights, which state that undocumented migrants disembarking on European soil should be provided with information, care and have their asylum claims processed.
“Border control and the containment of migratory flows cannot under any circumstance violate current laws,” the statement said. Spain’s government delegation in Melilla, one of the country's North African enclaves, confirmed to The Associated Press that around 40 migrants returned to Morocco on Friday. However, it said in a statement that the migrants were rescued by Moroccan authorities at sea and not on Spanish territory.
Helena Maleno of the NGO Walking Borders dismissed the government’s version of events. She made public GPS locations and photographs shared by the migrants with her organization that she said proved they were on land. In one of the photos people are seen sitting on rocks wrapped in a giant plastic bag in an attempt to shield themselves from the wind. In another a child wearing an orange vest is also seen on rocks in the arms of an adult.
“It wasn’t just a push-back at the entrance, these people were waiting for hours in Spanish territory without any assistance,” Maleno told the AP. It is not the first time Spain is accused of violating the so-called principle of “non-refoulement." In 2017 it was condemned by the European Court of Justice after sending two African men back to Morocco without due process.
According to Walking Borders, which has maintained contact with the migrants after their return to Morocco, at least two people were taken to hospital upon their arrival.