The European Court of Human Rights has made a landmark ruling that migrants who cross border fences which are still outside European Union territory have ‘rights as refugees’ – meaning Spanish authorities will no longer be allowed to return illegal immigrants to Morocco who storm border fences at the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.
The precedent was set following the ruling of two cases of illegal African migrants who were returned by Spanish border guards to Morocco after crossing the border fence in Melilla – despite the migrants technically still being in Moroccan territory at the time of their apprehension, reports Die Welt.
In the case of ‘N.D. and N.T. vs Spain’, the Strasbourg judges ruled in favour of two migrants from Mali and the Ivory Coast who were, on two occasions, directly arrested by the Spanish border police and handed over to Moroccan authorities at the Melilla border in 2014.
The judges condemned Spain for not giving the illegal immigrants access to lawyers or interpreters or allowing them to make complaints to Spain. The Court determined there was “no doubt” these actions amounted to ‘prohibited illegal deportations’, and both migrants were awarded €5,000.
The Spanish government argued that, amongst other considerations, the men had not yet reached any Spanish territory because the fences were still outside the exclave – an area the pro-migrant NGO European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) that supported the case calls “a lawless zone of automatic expulsions”.