Migrants in Morocco have no access to asylum in Melilla, Council of Europe says

FILE PHOTO: Protest over deaths of migrants attempting to reach the Spanish enclave of Melilla

MADRID (Reuters) - Migrants in Morocco have no "genuine and effective" access to asylum in the Spanish enclave of Melilla, leaving migrants with little choice other than to seek to cross illegally, the Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner said on Tuesday, calling on Spanish authorities to rectify the situation.

Melilla and the other Spanish enclave of Ceuta are the only land borders between Africa and the European Union.

"In practice, there seems to be no other way to enter Melilla and seek protection with the relevant authorities other than by swimming or jumping the fence, risking one's life," Dunja Mijatovic said in a statement after visiting both Madrid and Melilla last week.

Spain should ensure people in need of protection obtain it in the country, the commissioner added.

Asked for a comment on Mijatovic's statement, an Interior Ministry official said there is an "unequivocal alternative to the violent assault to the European Union's border."

The official said Spain processed 1,999 asylum requests in 2021 from abroad.

The comments from the representative of the Strasbourg-based European human rights forum adds pressure on the Spanish government to shed more light on a mass border crossing over a 6-meter-high fence into Melilla that led to the death of at least 23 migrants on June 24.

At the time, about 2,000 migrants took part in the attempt to storm the border post between Morocco and Spain's North African enclave of Melilla, with scores managing to reach Spanish territory.

A video from the Moroccan Association for Human Rights of the attempted crossing's aftermath showed dozens of bodies piled together. Both Morocco and Spain denied using excessive force.

The Spanish ombudsman released a damning report on the June disaster and a United Nations' human rights committee condemned in a statement what they described as "excessive and lethal use of force" by Moroccan and Spanish law enforcement.

Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska insisted police acted proportionately. He will answer further questions about what happened in a congressional hearing on Wednesday, with the possibility of a parliamentary enquiry into the issue if opposition legislators approve such a move.

(Reporting by Inti Landauro and Belen Carreno in Madrid; Editing by Matthew Lewis)