Spain is still allowed to systematically and brutally push back refugees and migrants at the Spanish-Moroccan border. In February 2020, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg passed a judgement that practically encourages Spain’s pushback practice: it dismissed the complaints by two affected people, ND from Mali and NT from the Ivory Coast, filed in February 2015, supported by ECCHR. This is a serious setback for refugee and migrant rights.
In October 2017, an ECtHR chamber of seven judges found Spain’s “pushbacks” unlawful. But in its review of the case, the Grand Chamber opted to find Spain did not violate the European Convention on Human Rights.
ND and NT (names withheld for their protection) crossed the border fence structure in Melilla and entered Spain on 13 August 2014. The Spanish Guardia Civil apprehended them, along with approximately 70 other individuals from Sub-Saharan Africa who also climbed the fences. They were immediately “pushed back” to Morocco – without access to any legal procedures or protection.
The Guardia Civil stopped the migrants and refugees as soon as they climbed on the border fence. Spanish authorities then let Moroccan security forces into the fence structure to “take back” the people on the fence. Video footage from that day shows that the migrants and refugees were subjected to violence by the Moroccan security forces who hit and kicked them – while the Guardia Civil looked on – before pushing them back to Morocco through a gate in the fence.
The two applicants were represented by Carsten Gericke (Hamburg) and Gonzalo Boye (Madrid), ECCHR partner lawyers. The complaint was supported by Brot für die Welt.
The incident on 13 August 2014 is not an isolated case. Spanish authorities keep no records of these automatic expulsions, so official figures are not available. However, media reports indicate a minimum of 1000 summary deportations in 2014 alone.
The practice known as “hot returns” or “pushbacks” has been in place since 2005. From 13 August 2014 until April 2015, the practice had no legal basis in Spanish law and relied only on an internal “operative protocol” of the Guardia Civil in Ceuta and Melilla.
Q&A: The Melilla case before the ECtHR.