MADRID (AFP) – Medical aid group Doctors Without Borders said Wednesday it was closing its projects in Morocco in protest at the plight of African migrants allegedly abused by Spanish and Moroccan police as they try to reach European soil.
The group reported treating hundreds of migrants who said they had been beaten by Moroccan and Spanish security forces guarding a fence that closes off the Spanish enclave of Melilla.
Spanish authorities have reported a surge in attempts by desperate Africans to scale the six-metre (20-foot) triple fence over recent months while hundreds camp in the wild nearby on the Moroccan side.
“Our capacity to prompt a substantial change in these people’s situation and the violence that they are suffering is very limited,” Raquel Ayora, Spain’s director of operations for Doctors Without Borders, or Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), told a news conference.
“It is time to demand that those responsible and capable of solving this problem take responsibility for it, and for us to withdraw” from Morocco, where the Spanish branch of MSF has run projects for 16 years, she added.
The organisation released a report with testimonies by African migrants living near the border of Melilla.
It quoted men who reported being beaten by Moroccan security forces and by Spanish Civil Guards who police the border.
“The Moroccan and Spanish authorities must take immediate and drastic measures to ensure that their security forces do not commit abuses against sub-Saharan migrants,” the MSF report said.
It also cited some of the hundreds of women it said had been raped while being trafficked to Morocco.
“The number of people we have treated due to violence has seen a big rise since mid-2012,” said Sergio Martin, director of MSF’s programmes in Morocco.
At the same time, “there are more mass attempts to scale the fence and we can observe that the immigrants are more desperate to try and cross.”
MSF said it would continue to support Moroccan aid groups working with the migrants.
The tiny Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, perched on the coast of north Africa and both claimed by Morocco, are launching pads for clandestine immigration from Africa to Spain and the rest of continental Europe.
According to local associations, Morocco was hosting between 20,000 and 25,000 migrants from sub-Saharan countries in 2012 hoping for access to Europe through Spain.
MSF’s decision to pull out of the country is in line with a decision taken more than a year ago, said the charity’s coordinator in Morocco, David Cantero.
“This could seem contradictory but we’ve found that the work required of us here is not that of a medical charity,” he told AFP. “We’re not a human rights organisation even if we speak out against violations.”