Survivor of Melilla migrant tragedy still eyes Europe

AFP 23.06.2023 18:54:42 AFP
(FILES) This picture taken on June 25, 2022 in Melilla shows the border between northern Morocco and the Spanish enclave, a day after at least 23 African migrants died in a bid by around 2000 people, mostly sub-Saharan African, to force their way into Europe.

Eritrean refugee Ammar Mohamed Hajj is overcome with emotion when he recalls that "dark day" a year ago when dozens of migrants died or went missing tried to cross into Spain.

"I slept with friends under a tree, then I lost them forever a few hours later," said the 23-year-old of the tragedy that occurred on June 24, 2022.

That day around 2,000 refugees and migrants were pushed back by police while trying to scale a fence into the Spanish enclave of Melilla. 

At least 23 died, according to Morocco, while Amnesty International and independent experts say there were at least 37 fatalities. In addition, some 73 migrants have gone missing. 

"It was a dark day that I will never forget," said Hajj. 

Rights groups have called in vain for an independent investigation into what is the deadliest migrant incident ever recorded at the borders of Melilla and Ceuta, the other EU territory on the African continent.

Both Morocco and Spain have denied using excessive force and accused the migrants and refugees, largely from conflict-wracked Sudan, of "violence" towards security forces. 

According to Rabat, some died after falling from the metal fence, and others of suffocating as the crowd panicked and a stampede started.

But an Amnesty International report based on testimony from the scene said migrants were hit with tear gas, pelted with stones and beaten as well as kicked while on the ground.

"We flee our countries in search of a better life and some end up dying in the ugliest way possible," said Hajj, who left Eritrea in 2009 with 12 family members to "escape the dictatorship". 

"I was going to be subject to compulsory conscription when I was just a child. I would have been deprived of an education," he told AFP.

- 'No other choice' -

He and his relatives fled to Sudan where they settled in a refugee camp before planning to try to make their way to Europe.

With the help of smugglers, Hajj embarked on a perilous journey of several months -- crossing Chad, Libya and Algeria before reaching Morocco from where he set off on that fateful day.

Hajj said he tried to reach Melilla by applying for asylum before being "arrested by the Moroccan authorities and sent back to (the central city of) Beni Mellal".

But he was determined then -- and even now -- to reach Europe.

Hajj now lives in Morocco where he is registered as an asylum seeker with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and has filed an application with UNHCR be admitted to a European country. 

"There's no other choice," he said, explaining that he needs money to help his family survive.

"Of course, Morocco is the best country I've been to, but life is difficult," said Hajj, who lives off UNHCR aid and money earned doing odd jobs.

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vendredi 23 juin 2023 21:54:42 Categories:

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