Migrants scaling fence Credit: GIN photo

No one chooses to be a refugee.

With those words, novelist Laila Lalami wound up her story of Europe’s current crackdown on asylum seekers, predominantly from Africa and increasingly jailed, beaten, or killed by security officers patrolling the border with Spain. The latest incident in which 37 African men were shot and died, took place at a Spanish enclave in northern Morocco.

Most of the 2,000 refugees and immigrants who sprinted to freedom on June 24 this year were escaping poverty, persecution, armed conflict, or other crises or violence. Some no longer felt safe in their home country and might have faced discrimination for their ethnicity, religion, sexuality or political opinions.

But when they attempted to exercise their rights to asylum, they faced tear gas and beatings with billy clubs wielded by Moroccan police in full riot gear. The refugees hailed from Sudan, Chad and elsewhere in Africa. Among the border guards, to Lalami’s dismay, were fellow Africans.

The incident, recorded and viewed widely, brought swift condemnation from the leader of the U.N. and many others. But after the cameras rolled away, Spain and Morocco leaders met quietly to discuss how to prevent the “violent and dangerous situation we saw two weeks ago.”

The events at the border were “planned and orchestrated,” in a way that was not typical of other attempts to storm the Spanish border, a spokesman for the Moroccan government hypothesized. Authorities blamed the refugees themselves for the “stampede” but as videos and photos emerged in the following days, a different story came into focus.

Dozens of young Black men, some of them motionless and bleeding were seen strewn on the floor as Moroccan security forces stood over them. One uniformed man could be seen poking one body with his baton.

Omar Naji of Morocco’s Human Rights Association in Nador said they have been contacted by the families of Sudanese migrants believed to be among the victims but have not been allowed to see the bodies or the dozens of injured migrants being treated at a local hospital.

“I am shocked by the violence,” U.N. Chief Antonio Guterres tweeted this week. “The use of excessive force is unacceptable, and the human rights and dignity of people on the move must be prioritized by countries.”

But the fierce crackdown on migrants continues to be justified by countries in Europe and the U.S. as “an attack on their borders,” where violence is blamed on migrants, encouraged by “mafias” who traffic in human beings.

It is particularly disappointing, noted a group of seven NGOs, that the EU never fulfilled its pledge to resettle 30,000 refugees in 2020, even after carrying this over into 2021. Last year, only 15,660 refugees were resettled to 12 EU states while more than 5.2 million refugees from Ukraine have been recorded across Europe.

Countries willing to capture and deport migrants include Tunisia, Libya, and Senegal while Greece and Turkey are erecting a network of walls and fences.

Deporting migrants back to Morocco, flying them to Rwanda, or telling them to remain in Mexico—these are all cruel, shortsighted responses, Lalami says, adding: “For until their homes are safe, refugees will continue to come.”

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