Morocco triples migrants’ jail terms over border storming

Riot police officers cordon off the area after migrants arrive on Spanish soil and crossing the fences separating the Spanish enclave of Melilla from Morocco in Melilla, Spain, Friday, June 24, 2022. Two weeks after 23 people died at the border between Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Melilla, the European Commission vowed to step up its work with Morocco on Friday to fight human smugglers using “new, extremely violent methods" and combat irregular migration into Spain. (AP Photo/Javier Bernardo, File)
Riot police officers cordon off the area after migrants arrive on Spanish soil and cross the fences separating the Spanish enclave of Melilla from Morocco in Melilla, Spain, Friday, June 24, 2022. /AP Photo

A Moroccan appeals court more than tripled to three years prison sentences against 18 African migrants over the deadly storming of a Spanish enclave in June, a lawyer said.

The migrants had been arrested after some 2,000 people, mostly from Sudan, tried to breach the frontier with the enclave of Melilla on June 24 in a bid to reach Europe. At least 23 migrants died in a crash.

“Eighteen migrants arrested on June 24 were sentenced to three years in prison” by the appeals court in Nador, a town near the border with Melilla, defence lawyer Mbarek Bouirig told AFP late Thursday.

The 18 migrants, among more than 60 arrested following the Melilla tragedy, had initially been sentenced to 11 months in prison.

The Moroccan Association of Human Rights denounced the ruling in a tweet, blasting what it described as a “repressive judicial system”.

The migrants had been convicted of “illegal entry into Morocco”, “violence against law enforcement officers”, “armed gathering” and “refusal to comply”.

The Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta have long been a magnet for people fleeing violence and poverty across Africa and seeking refuge via the continent’s only land borders with the EU.

Since the June 24 incident, dozens have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from eight months to two years in prison without parole.