Immigrants drown after Spain fires rubber bullets

spainimmigrantsThe European Commission wants Spain to account for the drowning of 14 migrants who recently failed to swim to Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in North Africa. Spain earlier admitted that rubber bullets were fired at them, but claimed no one was injured.

“The commission will be requesting explanations from the Spanish authorities on these events,” EU Home Affairs spokesperson Michele Cercone said, adding that the commission has a right to act if there’s evidence that a member state has violated EU laws.

On Thursday, Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz admitted that local border police, in an effort to turn back around 200 migrants who tried to cross the frontier between Morocco and Spain’s Ceuta on February 6, had indeed fired rubber bullets at them.

While some tried to cross on land, at least fourteen migrants drowned in the Mediterranean trying to swim around a man-made breakwater that separates Moroccan and Spanish waters. Spanish police say they are still searching for more victims.

According to the Spanish Interior Minister, the rubber bullets were fired at a distance of 25 meters to deter people from entering Spain while they were in the water. Diaz told a parliamentary commission that the shots were never intended to hit the migrants, whose behavior he described as aggressive. Spanish police posted online video footage of migrants throwing stones at the border fence. The footage didn’t show what had happened when some of them tried to swim around to Spanish land, however. Ceuta, on the north coast of Africa across the Strait of Gibraltar on the Mediterranean Sea, has a population of about 83,000.

According to the online newspaper EUObserver, 23 people managed to make it to Ceuta’s El Tarajal beach, but were immediately turned over to Moroccan authorities. Under European asylum and migration law, anyone who steps foot on member states’ territory is eligible to have their asylum request reviewed before being deported. Although Spanish Interior Minister admitted a group of migrants made it to the beach, Diaz said the group did not enter Spanish territory, since they allegedly never made it past the line of waiting border guards.

Meanwhile, the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmstrom said she was “very concerned about Spanish police using rubber bullets to deter migrants.”

“I expect clarifications from the authorities,” Cecilia Malmstrom wrote on her Twitter account.

Spain’s interior minister has admitted police should not have fired rubber bullets at migrants trying to reach Ceuta last month.

Jorge Fernandez Diaz said that rubber bullets were unlikely to deter migrants from the country’s North African enclave.

At least 15 migrants drowned on February 6 as hundreds tried to swim to Ceuta from Morocco.