Pretoria – The death of at least 23 migrants as they attempted to cross from Morocco into the Spanish city of Melilla last week is a cause for “deep regret and concern”, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) said.
“We align with the statements of the African Union and the United Nations that calls for an immediate independent, effective and transparent investigation into the matter,” said Dirco spokesperson Clayson Monyela.
“It is imperative that UN member states abide by internationally agreed norms and standards to protect human rights, human dignity and the protection of those fleeing war, persecution and discrimination.”
The tragedy happened when thousands of people, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, attempted to illegally cross from Morocco into the Spanish enclave of Melilla. The Spanish territory borders Morocco and is located on the North African coast some 150km from the Spanish mainland. Melilla and its sister city Ceuta are the only land borders between Africa and Europe.
The BBC reported that between 1 500 and 2 000 migrants who had been camping in the Moroccan mountains surrounding Melilla descended on the city’s border last Friday, a number of them carrying sticks, hoping to scale the border fences and therefore reach Spanish territory.
In the chaos that followed, many of them were crushed between the 6m-high fences and Moroccan border guards, who used tear gas and batons on the migrants.
The Department of International Relations and Cooperation in Pretoria said “such violent incidents meted out to migrants are increasing” globally.
“We see similar anti-migrant sentiment in South Africa, which at times, aside from challenging the very foundations of our constitutional democracy, could lead to mass violence against migrants irrespective of their status,” Monyela said.
“Cognisant of these national, regional and global trends, Dirco calls for commitments by all states, to treat migrants and their families with the human rights accorded to them under international law.”