MADRID (Reuters) – A Spanish prosecutor on Friday dismissed the criminal case against Spanish border agents for their handling of a mass border crossing in which at least 23 migrants died attempting to enter the North African enclave of Melilla from Morocco.
After heavy criticism from Spain’s ombudsman and U.N. human rights experts, the handling of the tragedy has been a major political headache for the Spanish government and led to calls for the interior minister to resign.
“It cannot be concluded that the actions of the intervening agents increased the risk to the life and physical integrity of the migrants, and therefore they cannot be charged with reckless homicide,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.
The investigation was launched on June 28, four days after about 2,000 migrants tried to storm a border post separating Morocco from the enclave, with scores managing to get across.
Both Rabat and Madrid have denied using excessive force.
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Morocco has said that 23 people died in the incident, which resulted from a crush and from migrants falling from a high fence, while Spanish authorities have argued that no deaths occurred on their territory.
Human rights group Amnesty International said in a recent report that at least 37 people died and 77 were missing. It condemned Moroccan and Spanish authorities for using “unlawful and lethal force” and failing to provide prompt medical assistance to the injured. It said their response “smacks of a cover-up”.
The immigration prosecutor said none of the officers involved in the operation, including the helicopter crew overflying the area were aware of the crush, “so at no time did they know that there were people at risk who needed their help”.
The prosecutor also called on the Spanish government to ensure that migrants have real possibilities to apply for visas, international protection or asylum at the border posts.
In November, the ruling Socialist Party and the main opposition People’s Party (PP) blocked a parliamentary inquiry into the incident.
(Reporting by David Latona and Emma Pinedo; Editing by Andrei Khalip, Kirsten Donovan)
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