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European court backs Spain on express migrant deportations

February 13, 2020 GMT
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FILE - In this Feb.11, 2020 file photo, a group of migrants disembark from a vessel after being rescued by Spanish maritime authorities at Motril port in Granada, Spain. The European Court of Human Rights on Thursday Feb. 13, 2020 upheld an appeal and backed Spain's express deportation of two African migrants back to Morocco from a Spanish enclave in northwest Africa as part of a mass expulsion ruling that there had been no violation of articles of the European Convention on Human Rights. (AP Photo/Jesus Merida, File)
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FILE - In this Feb.11, 2020 file photo, a group of migrants disembark from a vessel after being rescued by Spanish maritime authorities at Motril port in Granada, Spain. The European Court of Human Rights on Thursday Feb. 13, 2020 upheld an appeal and backed Spain's express deportation of two African migrants back to Morocco from a Spanish enclave in northwest Africa as part of a mass expulsion ruling that there had been no violation of articles of the European Convention on Human Rights. (AP Photo/Jesus Merida, File)

MADRID (AP) — The European Court of Human Rights on Thursday backed Spain’s express deportation of two African migrants back to Morocco from a Spanish enclave in northwest Africa as part of a mass expulsion.

The court’s grand chamber ruled that there had been no violation of two articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The case was taken by a Malian and an Ivorian with the support of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, or ECCHR.

The two men, along with several dozen others, crossed the high three border wire fences separating the Spanish enclave of Melilla from Morocco in August 2014. They were caught by Spanish police and immediately returned to Morocco.

Human rights organizations have long criticized express deportations. They claim that migrants are denied the opportunity to apply for asylum and an assessment of the risks they face if expelled.

The European court had initially condemned Spain in October 2017 for the case and concluded that the so-called summary returns from the Spanish North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla to Morocco were in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. Thursday’s ruling followed an appeal by Spain.

The appeal chamber said the migrants had “placed themselves in an unlawful situation when they had deliberately attempted to enter Spain as part of a large group and at an unauthorized location, taking advantage of the group’s large numbers and using force.”

It said “they had thus chosen not to use the legal procedures which existed in order to enter Spanish territory lawfully.”

Ceuta and Melilla are the European Union’s only land borders with Africa, Each year thousands of migrants, most of them from sub-Saharan countries, try to scale the fences to make it into Spain in the hope they won’t be returned and may get asylum.

Although there are no official figures, Spain is known to have carried out summary returns of hundreds of migrants at the enclaves.

In a statement, the ECCHR rights group said, “Instead of condemning Spain for failing its human rights obligations, the court is ignoring evidence from all human rights institution.”

It said “the decision ignores the reality at European borders, and particularly the situation of Sub-Saharan Africans at the Spanish-Moroccan frontier. ”

“It will be perceived as a carte blanche for violent push-backs everywhere in Europe,” said Wolfgang Kaleck, general secretary of ECCHR.