On the eve of a new EU migration agreement, it is essential to remember the impact of necropolitics on border control and externalisation. The Melilla massacre is a clear example of practices that result in serious human rights violations for people on the move.
Last June marked the first anniversary of one of the most visible and terrible massacres to have taken place at European borders. We were in Melilla, remembering the massacre on 27 June 2022.
The political practices of externalisation had a lethal impact on many people’s lives: 77 missing victims and at least 40 confirmed deaths. Hundreds of young people live today with physical and mental scars from the violence they suffered, and families suffer daily torture for the death and disappearance of their loved ones.
Unfortunately, impunity in the face of border violence has become established and is allowing European states to continue to move towards policies that will increase human rights violations at borders.
The European Union is meeting in Granada with migratory postulates to reinforce externalisation and its agreements with third countries towards greater militarisation of border areas. These proposals directly attack the right to asylum and put the criminalisation of migrant defenders on the agenda.
We know that even more difficult times will come so, today, we also want to remember that a movement of people, families and organisations will continue to defend life every day, weaving networks of resistance like those generated on 24J in the city of Melilla.
We encourage you to watch the video summary of the 24J event. Ir will help us to understand where necropolitics is taking us and enhance our ability to combat violence.
In the framework of the 25th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Women Human Rights Defenders, Caminando Fronteras participated in advocacy, awareness-raising and denunciation actions with women human rights defenders from different parts of the world.
Networking with women defenders from Honduras, Guatemala, the Philippines, Ukraine, Nicaragua, Armenia, Myanmar, Egypt, Kenya and Zambia, we have worked to make visible the specific patterns of criminalisation suffered by women defenders in different parts of the world. This meeting has allowed us to strengthen our alliances with people and organisations with whom we share objectives and values in the struggle to guarantee the right to defend rights.
Our current state of affairs have been expounded in the working groups on Discrimination against Women and Girls and Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, whose work has been fed with valuable information that our organisations contribute from the field.
The United Nations Rapporteurs on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, on the fight against terrorism, and women human rights defenders; the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families; and the Committee on the Rights of the Child, have listened to the problems of the different regions and the situations of harassment and criminalisation suffered by women human rights defenders.
As Caminando Fronteras, we have shared the work of the struggle on the western border of Europe and Africa, where the right to life is violated daily. It has been essential to bring to the United Nations headquarters the responsibility of the states of the global north in the human rights violations of people on the move. To this end, our colleague Helena Maleno, a defender criminalised and persecuted by the Spanish state and Morocco, had the opportunity to participate in the Women on the Front Line round table held at the Palais Nations.
In her speech, she offered our perspective on the violation of rights at the border, the economic interests behind necropolitics and the criminalisation processes orchestrated by states to attack human rights defenders, especially when they are women.
We continue to weave networks of global justice for the defence of life.
On 9 May, for the first time, we had the opportunity to listen, in the same forum, to relatives of people who have disappeared at the border, specialists and representatives of international organisations who participated in the 1st International Congress of Families of Victims of Borders.
The 160 places available in the auditorium of La Casa Encendida (Madrid) were sold out a few days after the event was launched. Due to this large influx and the interest generated by the topics that were addressed, the debate between participants and the public was lively at all times, with a constant exchange of testimonies, proposals, demands and suggestions to resolve the difficulties encountered by relatives in the process of searching for and recognising their loved ones.
The event was followed live on our Instagram and Twitter channels, where the most outstanding testimonies from each discussion table were collected. In total, all the publications we generated around the congress achieved a reach of more than 800,000 impressions, a figure that shows the interest aroused by a completely invisible reality due to border control policies.
Those in the room were joined by all those who followed the conference via streaming. Almost 1,000 views were accumulated by the broadcast in Spanish and 500 in French.
At the congress, the families demanded that states fulfil their obligations and respect the rights of those who have died and disappeared at borders. It also became clear that the networks that the families are weaving are leading processes of truth and justice in the face of border necropolitics.
Particular requests were made: more explicit and more transparent procedures for filing a missing persons report at police stations, improved identification of corpses that appear at the border, better databases for post-mortem and ante-mortem comparisons, dignified burials, facilitation of identification processes other than DNA, involvement of consulates and embassies in origin in accompanying families, as well as the facilitation of visas for transnational searches. Without these protocols, families are at the mercy of misinformation and hoaxes; and they continue to suffer a violation of their fundamental rights, as they, too, are victims of border policies.
Some of the most outstanding interventions we were able to hear were:
“Organised families, taking many risks, are central actors in the search for justice. This does not happen in other crimes”.
Pablo Ceriani, United Nations Committee on Migrant Rights and their Families.
“In many countries, there is a regression. Barriers are being raised for people to migrate regularly. This creates more dangerous routes.”
Felipe Gonzalez, UN Rapporteur on Migrants.
“The means, engines, and canoes may change, but the story is always the same to the millimetre. People have been at sea for five days, and the first contact with a European authority is with Frontex because they will interrogate them”.
Abdallah, a family member of a missing person.
“If the embassies of our countries were involved in the search for the missing, all the processes would be simpler. Families cannot identify the bodies, come to say goodbye or bury them in their place of origin.”
Abdou Kane, Spokesperson Here We Are Migrating.
“There are no projects to search for the disappeared because they do not want to recognise that migration policies are unjust and take many lives”.
Mamadou Mouctar Bah, community leader.
“The families of migrants suffer pain, stigmatisation and denial of access to the remains of their relatives, something that the victims of Franco’s regime also suffered. Our first achievement was to break the silence. To put victims who were invisible on the table to begin to create security and protocols in the search for the victims”.
Almudena García-Rubio Ruiz, researcher at the Aranzadi Science Society.
“The families of the victims of the borders have the right to be considered victims, to know what happened, to search, to participate in the investigation, to bury their relatives…”.
Patricia Fernández Vicens, lawyer and advocate for migrants’ rights.
“The main reason for illegal migration is that it is impossible to get a legal visa, so people pay thousands of euros to get on a boat and risk their lives to migrate. A humane migration policy is possible.”
Ione Belarra, Minister for Social Rights and Agenda 2030.
“I am the voice of many mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. They cannot be here. I am only the body, but the soul is also here: all the mothers and fathers”
Katya, a victim’s relative.
“The morgues on the coasts are full of bodies; for every one of them, a desperate family is looking for them; more could be done to help them; we could work with their DNA”
We travelled to Senegal to continue weaving transnational networks with relatives of border victims. During this visit, the collective aimed to share space and time with families we have accompanied in the search for their loved ones over the last few years. We wanted to have the opportunity to look at each other and understand what has happened in their lives after such a terrible loss, having the opportunity to discuss their needs and strategies of resistance.
In this country, we have also met with social organisations that have shown us their vision of the context and the challenges they face in accompanying reparation and justice processes. These spaces are fundamental for sharing and structuring in an increasingly solid way the struggle against the violence generated by the policies of death established at the border.
Senegal is the origin of the deadliest migratory route to the Spanish state: more than 7,000 people have died trying to reach the Canary Islands since 2018, according to the data we have documented in Caminando Fronteras. We are facing one of the most dangerous migratory journeys in the world.
Many of these people disappeared at sea, causing more significant pain among their relatives, who have not even had the opportunity to recover their bodies and bury them in their communities. This is one of the reasons why this trip has been so crucial for us, as it allows us to continue denouncing injustices such as the omission of relief or the administrative obstacles that continue to prevent the identification of the bodies.
During the days we spent in Senegal, we strengthened ties with families and communities and learned from them to improve the accompaniment we provide in the processes of seeking justice, truth and reparation.
With the families at the centre and the memory of the victims as our support, we will continue to fight against the border regime that causes so much pain.
The Guide is a tool made available to families to help them search for missing persons at borders. Following the success of the first edition, we have updated the contents and expanded the languages available, including Wolof and Bambara, to support more communities.
This guide is intended to be a tool to guide them through the problems and obstacles they encounter on the difficult path to finding out the truth.
The same system that produces deaths at the borders hinders families from accessing processes of reparation and justice.
Last Monday, 27 February, our colleague Helena Maleno participated in the presentation of the book “El Pacto de Cuidarnos. 2010-2021: Integral Feminist Protection in Mesoamerica from the Mesoamerican Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders”, published by the IM-Defensoras network.
The event occurred at the Ateneo La Maliciosa in Madrid and was organised by IM-Defensoras, Calala Fondo de Mujeres, Peace Brigades (PBI) and Frontline Defenders (FLD). During the presentation, moderated by María San Martín (Frontline Defenders), Fiona Montagut (Calala Fondo de Mujeres) and Marusia López (IM-Defensoras) spoke first, recalling the process of producing the publication and IM-Defensoras’ track record in protecting women human rights defenders. Next, Katherin Cruz (Red Nacional de Defensoras de Derechos Humanos en Honduras), Brytany Castillo (ASPIDH Arcoiris Trans and Red Salvadoreña de Defensoras) and Dalila Argueta (Red Nacional de Defensoras de Derechos Humanos en Honduras) shared their experiences as defenders of territory and the rights of transgender people in Mesoamerica.
Finally, our colleague Helena Maleno spoke alongside Míriam García (PBI) to discuss the risks of defending rights from the Spanish state. Our colleague explained how the knowledge of Mesoamerican women defenders had been vital in developing collective protection in border contexts. In this sense, Maleno expressed her gratitude for the role that many of those present had played in forming a security and support network that was decisive during the criminalisation she suffered from the Spanish state and Morocco.
The experience of more than ten years and more than two thousand activists coordinated by IM-Defensoras has served to give content to a publication that proposes strategies for self-defence in the face of the impunity of violence protected by the authoritarianism of states. The construction of networks was shown to be the critical element for protecting women defenders of life, territory and human rights. You can read or download El Pacto de Cuidarnos on the IM-Defensoras website in Spanish and English.
In this video, you can see a summary of the presentation.
On Thursday, 16 February 2023, the IV Desalambre Awards gala was held in Madrid. These awards, organised by Eldiario.es, recognise the work of activists, organisations and journalists committed to defending human rights. The work of Ca-Minando Fronteras was awarded in the category of best documentation work for the report “Monitoring the right to life on the Euro-African Western Border”.
This report carried out within the framework of our Human Rights Observatory since 2015, is considered the most reliable source for counting the number of people killed and missing on the way to Europe, especially on the maritime routes. During the awards ceremony, the head of the Desalambre section at Eldiario.es, Gabriela Sánchez, highlighted the high quality of the data provided by the group, which has become the best reference for the media when it comes to reporting on the tragedies and violations of rights occurring at the border.
Our colleagues Helena Maleno, Lucas Vaquero and Erika Guilabert accepted the award, thanking everyone who made it possible to compile such valuable information. In our speech, we had words for the families who do not give up in the search for their loved ones; the communities on the move who show us the reality of life on the frontiers of death; the victims themselves, whose memory inspires our struggle; and the compañeras who have been part of our network at some point over the last 20 years.
Thank you to all of them and to all of you who are always there. This award is also yours.
Watch the video of the award ceremony and Helena Maleno’s full speech.
The Spanish Association of Anthropology and Forensic Odontology (aeaof.com) dedicates the sixth issue of its periodical to deaths at the border. From different perspectives, it analyses the context of this reality and describes the multidisciplinary challenges for recognising the rights of victims and their families.
We contribute to this reflection with an article signed by the collective: Dead and missing persons on the Western European-African border: forgotten rights, denied rights (pp. 18-26).
We are grateful for the work of the AEAOF in the search for alternatives from different spheres of responsibility in the face of the reality of the deaths and disappearances of migrants at the border, recognising the commitment of the organisation and its members to human rights and networking from different spheres.
Our collective has prepared an article for this publication that represents a synthesis of our lessons learned during more than twenty years of experience searching for missing persons on the Western Euro-African Border.
In this monograph, we offer an overview of the current situation of migratory movements and how they are impacted by policies that have turned the land and sea borders between Spain and Africa into spaces of impunity and violation of rights.
Next, we analyse the deaths and disappearances of people on the move based on the quantitative and qualitative research carried out by our organisation and the existing difficulties in identifying the bodies of migrants who have arrived in Spain. Subsequently, we study the specific violence and the profound psychosocial impact that these deaths and disappearances have on the families in the countries of origin and the communities of people on the move.
Our writing includes the different experiences of resistance and collective organisation woven at the community level by families and communities to initiate processes of truth, justice, reparation and non-repetition. In conclusion, we present the theoretical and practical keys that should underpin accompaniment in terms of rights and human rights for all victims of the border and their families and communities.
The magazine can be downloaded in full here.
Are you looking for a family member or acquaintance who has disappeared on a migratory route? If so, contact us here.