—What can the families of the disappeared do?
The Sudanese who managed to jump the Melilla fence: “The Moroccan police have beaten us and killed our friends”
Khaled’s question echoes through the speaker of a telephone less than a kilometer from the place where they could give him an answer, but the listener, Ali, can only swallow. Just 15 minutes away on foot, the Nador Hospital keeps the bodies of 23 who died in the attempted jump over the Melilla fence, although no one can go to them. Their doors are closed to those who try to identify them.
“I don’t know if my brother is injured, if he’s in Spain, if he’s in Morocco, if he’s in the bush… It’s not normal,” continues Khaled, 25, from France. He doesn’t dare say the last of the “ifs” out loud.
A week has passed since the jump over the Melilla fence and he still hasn’t heard from his older brother, Mohamed Saleh, 28. “I am going to exhaust the way of finding him among the living. I will keep looking,” Khaled insists by phone from his home in Bordeaux, where he has lived for the past six years. Since he found out what happened on Friday June 24 at the Melilla border, he has been trying to find out the whereabouts of his brother through the Sudanese community in Morocco.
Since then he calls Ali every day, a neighbor of the town that they all abandoned in Sudan. Sitting on the bed in a small room where he is recovering from a foot injury in Nador, this 22-year-old hears a similar question every day: “Do you know something?”
The answer is negative, and Khaled doesn’t understand a thing. “On Friday I was calm, I thought they were going to contact me but the days go by and I don’t know anything about him. I lose hope that he will contact me again. We are in shock.”
“I don’t want to think he’s dead”
Mohamed’s photo is also posted on a private Facebook group set up by Sudanese families and friends searching for missing persons after at least 23 people died trying to cross the border last Friday. Ali shows us one image after another. Some give details, like their phone numbers, and ask for any information that will help find them.
“I don’t want to think he’s dead. I will keep looking and, if I don’t find anything, I will travel to Morocco to look for answers”, says Khaled forcefully. A voice from behind supports his words and greets the press that listens to him. He is another of the 10 brothers in the family. He also resides in France.
None of them have told their mother anything. She, Khaled explains, has not had access to information about the deaths in Melilla from the small town where she lives in Sudan. They don’t want to worry her. They avoid making him go through the anguish that they already accumulate after a week without answers.
Neither does his wife. Not even the two children that his brother left behind: a girl and a boy aged four and two.
“They don’t have internet. They don’t know what’s going on, why should I tell them now?” Khaled explains, still patiently. “But I am in France, the information reaches me and I can do something.”
Change of route
Khaled has lived in France since 2016, when he left Sudan and traveled to Libya. From there he embarked for Lampedusa and was rescued by one of the Doctors Without Borders rescue missions, according to his account.
Last August, Mohamed Saleh decided to follow in his brother’s footsteps to join him in France. “Due to the situation in Sudan, they have given me asylum – as 88% of Sudanese have also obtained it in Spain so far this year. I live in Bordeaux, where I work and since 2018 I have papers”, says the 25-year-old. “He wanted to follow my example.”
But when he took the same route as his brother, the path had changed. The agreement of the European Union with the North African country, which has ceded control of the rescue operations to the questioned Libyan “coast guard”, has promoted returns to the country where different international organizations have documented abuses and torture of migrants and refugees. .
The biggest obstacles pushed Mohamed Saleh, like more and more Sudanese, to cross the borders of Niger and Algeria to reach Morocco and, from there, try to enter Ceuta and Melilla.
“The situation of the route to Italy has changed and it is more expensive and dangerous. After a time in Libya, my brother decided to come to Morocco”, summarizes Mohamed. “We never imagined this outcome. In a boat, okay, but in a fence I can’t get into my head that I haven’t heard from my brother for days.”
According to the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH), the Alaouite authorities planned to bury the bodies of the deceased, without autopsy or prior identification, in some twenty graves dug in the Muslim cemetery of Nador, where opacity and police surveillance has been constant since days ago. At the moment, the burial has not been carried out, but the NGO fears that it is only a temporary decision given the scandal generated after his complaint.
In the last week, the AMDH in Nador has received a desperate request from eight Sudanese families asking for information about their deceased children, siblings or friends. Omar Naji, leader of the association, collected the photographs on his phone and went to the El Hassani Hospital in Nador to request admission to the morgue. He wanted to check if any of these images coincided with the lifeless bodies housed since last Friday in the deposit.
He could not do it, they prevented him from entering. Meanwhile, families like Mohamed Saleh’s wait for someone to answer one of his many questions: “If I don’t have answers, I’ll go to Morocco to keep looking.”