RABAT, Morocco ( Associated Press) – A court in Nador, Morocco, sentenced 33 migrants to 11 months in prison on Tuesday for attempting to break into the Spanish enclave of Melilla. The ruling received strong criticism from migrant advocacy groups.
On June 24, hundreds of migrants tried to cross the fence between Morocco and Melilla. At least 23 people were killed in what Moroccan authorities called a “stampede”.
The punishment imposed on Tuesday, 33, was for “disrespect”, “armed assembly”, “violence against public officials” and “illegal entry into Moroccan territory”. Officials said they were all from sub-Saharan Africa, mostly from Sudan and Chad.
In addition to the prison sentence, the court ordered each to pay a 500 dirham ($49) fine and a 3,500 dirham ($340) utility bill.
The Moroccan Association for Human Rights called the sentence “extremely severe” and asked the appeals court to set it aside. The NGO will present the results of its investigation into the incidents in Nador on Wednesday.
In June, 133 migrants crossed the border from Morocco into Spain, the first mass crossing since the normalization of relations between the two countries in May. A spokesman for the Spanish government delegation in Melilla said some 2,000 people tried to cross, but were stopped by the Spanish Civil Guard on one side and the Moroccan army on the other.
Morocco’s Interior Ministry said in a statement that the death occurred while trying to climb the fence.