Sole Survivor of Tragic Sea Crossing Blames Police for Deaths of Migrants

On the night of Sunday the 28th October 2012 at least 14 people drowned in the Straits of Gibraltar between Tangiers, Morocco and Tarifa, Spain. They were Sub-Saharan Africans from various West African countries including Senegal and the Ivory Coast, including refugees registered with the UNHCR.

According to an Ivorian man who claimed to be the only survivor of the incident, three boats left that night from the forest outside Tangiers. All three boats had already passed the borderline markers in the sea when they began to sink, most likely due to excess weight. Legally, since the boats were in Spanish territory, the migrants should have been dealt with by Spanish Border Patrol and any survivors taken back to Spain where they could apply for Asylum. However, all three boats were in fact dealt with by Moroccan police, who chased them across the border, outside their actual jurisdiction, allegedly without informing the Spanish police of the deaths of migrants.

The migrants were in “Zodiac” inflatable dinghies designed to carry a maximum of 300kg, or four people of average weight. The high cost of these boats in Morocco, combined with the extreme police harassment, institutional racism and financial strain Sub-Saharan migrants face in Morocco cause many to risk overloading them to save time and money.

One boat carried 6 people of which 4 were caught by Moroccan police and brought back to Tangiers. The other two chose to jump into the sea rather than be caught by the Moroccans, because, in the words of the Ivorian survivor: “they already crossed the border, and its like they don’t like to come back to Morocco. That’s why they jump to the water. So either they survive or die, but they don’t want to come back to Morocco.” These two are believed to have been eventually picked up by Spanish authorities and taken to Spain.

The other two boats each contained 8 people, at least double the recommended weight. Despite the boats captains contacting friends in Tangier who in turn informed the Spanish Police that there were boats sinking and lives at risk, the Spanish police disregarded the information.

One of the boats contained a woman carrying her baby child. There are rumours that she somehow survived and made it to Spain, but our source, the sole survivor, did not see her get rescued. She was on a different boat to him, and he is certain that he was the only survivor of the boat he was on.

He says that the Moroccan police passively watched him struggling in the water for between 30-40 minutes before throwing him a rope, despite the fact that they are supposed to have two trained divers on board each of their boats. When he informed them that there were other bodies in the water he said they did nothing. “It was like they just didn’t care” he said.

When he was taken back to Tangiers they detained him for 18 hours at the central police station. They did not give him access to any medical or psychological care, a phone call or food other than two sandwiches during this time. Despite his complaints that he was extremely tired and traumatised they did not even let him rest, instead taking him from office to office the whole time he was detained.

The survivor, who wishes to remain anonymous, is officially a refugee, registered with the UNHCR in Mauritania where he was forced to move after leaving his native Ivory Coast due to Civil War. He said he had only wanted to stay in Spain enough time to be able to buy various materials he needed for his business in Mauritania but which were much cheaper in Spain.

He maintains that if the Moroccan police had communicated with the Spanish authorities more fully, rather than unlawfully entering Spanish Territory as they did, lives would have been saved. This incident seriously calls into question the EU’s funding of Moroccan border police, who are widely regarded as corrupt, with no respect for the basic human rights of Migrants.

Since the 1995 Barcelona Agreement Moroccan authorities have been assisting the EU in protecting it’s external borders in exchange for funding and promises of economic integration. Moroccan police are paid 1500 euros for every migrant they arrest, supposedly to pay for the costs of deportation back to their home countries, and for the cost of keeping them in an adequate condition of life during detention. However, migrants widely report that the Moroccan police routinely detain them in extremely poor conditions, without adequate food, medical care or sleeping conditions. Many migrants claim the Moroccan police simply wait until the EU pays them, before releasing the migrants back onto the streets or illegally deporting them to Algeria. The Moroccan police are accused of pocketing the money from the EU, as individuals, raising questions about whether the EU should continue funding these corrupt practices.

Migrants here clearly blame the racism and corruption of the Police, and the difficulties they experience in Morocco as migrants, for the deaths at sea, of which this incident is only the most recent example.

The full transcript of the interview is can be found here: beatingborders.wordpress.com

Contact nobordersmorocco@riseup.net for more information. 

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