The killing last Friday, 24 June, of 37 people who were trying to cross the EU frontier at Melilla, the Spanish controlled city in North Africa, continues —rightly— to cause repercussions.
The Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, made scandalous statements in response to the events: “We reject any violent attempt to assault the Melilla fence… by mafias that traffic in human beings… The [Moroccan] gendarmerie has gone to great lengths to try to prevent the violent assault. It is important to recognise the extraordinary work of the Armed Forces and security forces…”
Since then, the Spanish government has tried to maintain this lie about “mafias”, but the reality is very different.
Thousands of people, most of them from central Africa, especially Sudan, had been surviving for up to four years in makeshift camps on the Moroccan side of the frontier.
The recent acceptance by the Sánchez Government of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara —a Spanish colony for a century, then occupied by Morocco in 1975— formed part of a deal by which the authoritarian North African regime would strengthen its control of the Spanish border.
This may well underlie the increasing harassment suffered recently by migrants aiming to cross, with Moroccan police stealing their belongings, even burning their papers.
In response to this, thousands of them decided they’d had enough and tried to jump the fence.
Between the brutal attacks by the security forces, and the brutal razor wire on the fence itself, the current estimate is that 37 people died. 133 people managed to remain on the Spanish side of the border.
Others were “pushed back” by Spanish and Moroccan forces; this is against international law as it denies the right to request asylum.
Nearly 30 migrants/asylum seekers are currently on trial in Nador, the nearby Moroccan city, accused of violence and of being a trafficking gang; lawyers from the Moroccan Association for Human Rights are defending them against these trumped up charges.
The tragedy forms part of an ongoing reality of EU anti-migrant policies, with the increasingly militarised border agency Frontex.
Another key factor is externalisation, where regimes like Morocco, the Egyptian dictatorship, Erdogan’s Turkey, etc. receive EU development aid in return for acting as Europe’s border guards.
And at the NATO summit celebrated only days ago in Madrid, Sánchez insisted on the control of the southern frontier as an alliance “defence” objective.
As the member of the Spanish Congress, Maria Dantas, denounced: “If those migrants were victims of Putin’s war, NATO would be mobilising troops and Europe would be speaking of war crimes. Hypocrites and racists!”
She contrasted the violence meted out in Melilla to the fact that the Spanish state has given protection to more than 120,000 (white) refugees from Ukraine (rightly so, but they should do so with all refugees).
The positions taken by the PSOE are scandalous, but sadly not a surprise. Like other social democrats in Europe, they combine progressive sound bites with an insistence on limiting migration, which inevitably means racism.
Just on taking office in Summer 2018, they welcomed the rescue ship Aquarius carrying 630 migrants that had been denied entry to Italy by the then interior minister Salvini. Only six months later, Sánchez’s government banned rescue ships from operating (Salvini celebrated, tweeting “they see that we are right”).
What had happened in between? VOX had made its shock entry to the Andalucian parliament in December 2018. Instead of confronting their racism, the PSOE conceded to it… again.
In principle, Podemos leaders have a much better record against racism, but they have done little more than raise some muted criticisms. They supposedly joined the coalition so as to be able to exercise real power, but they accept being disciplined by the PSOE.
Some activists now state that Pedro Sanchez is the same as VOX leader, Abascal.
Their anger is understandable but could lead to mistaken conclusions.
If we already have a far right government, then it makes no sense to continue to protest against the far-right VOX.
In fact, things are more complex.
The growth of VOX —and the far right in general— has fed the growth of racist frontier policies. And these racist EU policies give even more space to the far right. They can win successes even without officially exercising power.
But the appalling position of PSOE leaders, and to a certain extent, the Podemos ministers, doesn’t mean that ordinary members and voters of these parties agree.
It is still possible and essential to build a united movement against racism and the far right.
Black Lives Matter
There have already been significant protests in response to the deaths, with thousands joining rallies in Madrid, Barcelona and dozens of other cities.
Movements based in Melilla itself called for unitary actions on the evening of Friday 1 July. At the time of writing, protests are planned across the country.
Apart from general indignation, these protests include the necessary call for the removal of the Interior Minister, Grande Marlaska, already implicated in a whole series of human rights abuses around migrants and refugees.
The protests also raise a much broader political question for the left.
If Podemos decides they can no longer support Sánchez, the only alternative in parliamentary terms would be a shift rightwards, with even the danger of VOX entering government.
But continuing to support a government that promotes racism, militarism, etc. means abandoning principles.
The real alternative is outside parliament, not trying to manage the existing system, but rather struggling against it.
Jesús Melillero a Marx21 member in Melilla, comments: “What happened last Friday is not an isolated event, the increase in social conflicts and climate change in Africa is going to force thousands of people to leave their homes to try to reach EU territory, which in continental Africa means the cities of Ceuta and Melilla.”
This situation cannot be resolved in the interests of ordinary people, north and south, without breaking with the current system.