Melilla, the invisible genocide at the gates of Europe
On 24 June, in the Spanish enclave of Melilla (Morocco), thousands of migrants, mostly Sudanese, tried to force the metal border fence. Moroccan security forces responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and batons. At least 37 people were killed – 27, according to unofficial reports. Desirée Bela-Lobedde, a Spanish Afrofeminist, shares her thoughts in an opinion column for Público.
Published on 30 June 2022 at 13:28
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On 24 June, another tragedy occurred at the Melilla border fence. An intervention by the Moroccan security forces, on Spanish territory, resulted in the deaths of at least 27 black Africans who were trying to cross the fence. That figure could rise after the publication of this article, as many other people were left in a serious condition. The news has been published across the media, including in Público.
We have seen statements by the prime minister of the most progressive government in the history of Spain talking about “migratory pressure”; talking about the Sahel and misnamed sub-Saharan Africa as if they were the same thing. Shame on him for believing that. We have heard Pedro Sánchez talk about “territorial integrity”. We have also heard him defend the actions of the Moroccan security forces, and defend a migration agreement between the two countries that is killing Africans in significant numbers.
As always and once again, we have heard talk of a “well-organised and well executed violent assault”. This is an expression that results in the criminalisation of African people, and it has a very clear and studied objective: to justify the use of violence and excessive force against them.
This criminalisation is used to talk about the levels of violence used by migrants, as if the violence used by the two sides were comparable. Because migrants do not reach the category of people. To drop the label of migrants and talk about people would be to humanise them, and that is not in their interest. What is in the interest of governments and the mainstream media, driven by public alarm and fear, is to continue to associate black African migrants with criminality, with avalanches, with a threat to integrity. To consign them to the category of migrants perpetuates dehumanisation. And dehumanisation guarantees indifference.
This is the mechanism used so that, when the Spanish public sees on their screens the images of all those people – I insist: people, not migrants – dying or already dead, while the police continue to mistreat their bodies, there is no alarm, no shock, no indignation. Let no one feel the rage burning inside them in the face of so much violence. In fact, the Spanish public is already desensitised: the pornography of the death of black bodies has been promoted so much that, on seeing them lifeless, few people react. So no one goes out on the streets to ask for explanations as to why the human rights of these people are systematically violated. People, not migrants; I insist.
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The collective work of dehumanisation is successful. They are not people; they are migrants. They come from Africa to invade, to threaten the values of this fortress Europe that was built and thrived by stealing and plundering Africa’s land and enslaving its people.
They are criminals, they are rapacious and violent beasts. Propaganda has already taken care to portray them as such, depersonalising them in order to justify the violent and dehumanising treatment meted out to them.
Perhaps the difference is, as always, that the bodies on the southern border are black
- They are another category of people of lesser value. They are not blue-eyed blonds. They are neither Catholic nor European. That is why they do not deserve a social mobilisation or an immediate welcome. That is why they deserve death, indignity and humiliation. That is why they do not deserve safe ways to migrate and reach Europe. That is why they do not deserve instant measures to regularise their situation. That is why they deserve invisible genocide and death.
The criminalising mechanism used by Spain’s most progressive government and the media to justify deadly migration policies is working perfectly. This weekend’s images, showing Moroccan police piling up black bodies and leaving them to agonise to death, ignoring their duty to help, have gone unnoticed by most of the Spanish public, who were focusing their indignation and rage on the repeal of abortion rights in the United States. That is where the condolences, anger and expressions of support have poured in.
Again, as always, we are stuck in the hierarchy of first-class lives and second-class lives. The silent majority is capable of incredible acts of dissociation. No one contends that there is anything strange or absurd in showing support for bodily control in the United States, while at the same time showing absolute indifference to the Spanish government’s control of bodies on the southern border. Perhaps the difference is, as always, that the bodies on the southern border are black.
- It seems that black lives only matter if they are American. Black African lives don’t deserve the black square and the hashtags. This weekend, rallies have been organised on social media to express rejection of the deadly migration policies and deals of the Spanish and Moroccan governments. It was no surprise to see that all the outraged people who have been denouncing for days the loss of human rights implied by the reversal of the Roe v. Wade ruling have ignored the twenty-seven deaths in Melilla, as they did the tragedy on the Tarajal beach. And so on and so forth.
Again, the dehumanisation and criminalisation of these people makes the average person believe that there is some validity to it. They buy into the propagandistic and deceitful rhetoric of “let them come, but let them come legally – because, of course, if they don’t come legally, it’s normal that what happens to them happens to them”. Someone’s brother-in-law is encouraged to say it, and the rest of those present nod silently in agreement with this widely accepted racist talk. It seems that those who come illegally have no right to life.
An invisible genocide is taking place before our inattentive eyes. It is not really an invisible genocide; it is an invisibilised genocide. And the majority of the population looks the other way, keeping a complicit silence.