Europe’s Treacherous Borders: Seeking Justice for Ceuta Victims

Four years of impunity: Spanish judge refuses to hear survivors and to fully investigate lethal push-back at Ceuta border

At least 15 people died and several more were injured on 6 February 2014 during a brutal push back operation by the Spanish Guardia Civil - a paramilitary police force - at the border between Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Ceuta on the beach of El Tarajal. On 28 January 2018 the local judge in charge of investigating the fatal push-back closed the case against officers of the Guardia Civil for the second time. ECCHR’s cooperation lawyer, Gonzalo Boye from Madrid, immediately appealed this decision.

Quatre ans d’impunité: le juge espagnol refuse l’audience de survivants lors de l’enquête judicaire concernant l’opération frontalière mortelle à la frontière hispano-marocaine de Ceuta

CP_Ceuta_Feb18_FR.pdf (199.2 KiB)
Spanish-Marroccan border at El Tarajal/Ceuta. © Foto: Metromuster/Observatori DESC

In January 2017, Spanish court ordered reopening of investigations into brutal 2014 Ceuta police action

This decision of the local judge came though the regional court had quashed a similar decision in January 2017, explicitly ordering the identification, location and hearing of direct victims and witnesses. Subsequently two victims now residing in Germany informed the judge of their willingness to testify. However the judge hindered their participation in the investigation by closing it without hearing them.
The court fruther found that the postmortems carried out were inadequate.The decision came in response to a complaint submitted by a Madrid lawyer working with ECCHR against the closing of proceedings in October 2015.

Case Report: Justice for survivors of violent push-backs from Ceuta (El Tarajal)

CaseReport_Ceuta.pdf (508.9 KiB)

Victims of fatal push back finally granted fundametal right to have rights

“The victims of Ceuta were people fleeing from war and desperate hardship. On reaching Europe’s borders they were illegally and brutally pushed back. The Spanish authorities have to grant them the fundamental right to enforce their rights,” said ECCHR's General Secretary Wolfgang Kaleck.

ECCHR supports survivors and witnesses of push-backs

They call it the “protection of the EU’s external borders”. But Nathan (full name known to ECCHR) has first-hand experience of what this really means. At ECCHR's event, Europe’s treacherous borders: justice for the Ceuta victims! in February 2015, he described the fatal push-back action carried out almost one year before in Ceuta.

15 dead, many injured - the fatal push-back on 6 February 2014 in Ceuta

Nathan was 15 years old when he joined a group of around 400 refugees and migrants attempting to swim across the border between Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Ceuta on 6 February 2014. Members of the Guardia Civil responded with batons, rubber bullets and tear gas. At least 15 people were killed; many more were seriously injured. 23 people who reached the shoreline were summarily deported to Morocco without any examination of their asylum rights.

Spain reluctant to investigate fatal push-back

Only after the appearances of extensive video footage and eye-witness testimonies did the Spanish government admit that rubber bullets had been used. And it took more than a year until a judge decided to officially investigate 16 Guardia Civil officers allegedly involved in the incident.
Druing the initial investigations authorities continued to maintain that the Guardia Civil fired only into the water and that none of the refugees were injured. But in accounts given to media and human rights organizations in Spain, survivors have made clear that the shots were aimed specifically at refugees and their life preservers. Many of the refugees had been wearing floatation devices as they were not able to swim.

Events in Ceuta are symptomatic of the EU’s external border practices

The brutality displayed in Ceuta is symptomatic of the violent and unlawful practice of “push-backs” being carried out at the EU’s frontiers in complete disregard of the rights of those seeking safety in Europe.

ECCHR's work on migration

ECCHR is assisting Nathan and other survivors and witnesses of the events of 6 February 2014 in taking legal proceedings against the Guardia Civil, whose actions were in violation of both Spanish and European law. We are cooperating closely in these cases with our colleague Gonzalo Boye in Madrid and with Spanish NGO Obervatori DESC in Barcelona.
ECCHR staff members have spoken to refugees and migrants in Spain, Germany and Morocco who witnessed or, like Nathan, experienced first-hand the events.
Over the past years, ECCHR has also been taking legal action on the practice of illegal push-backs in Melilla (Spain) and Idomeni (at the Greek-Macedonian border) as well as in so-called Hotspots in Greece.


  • Ceuta
  • EU
  • Migration
  • Morocco
  • Push-Backs
  • Refugess
  • Spain