International human rights organisations have condemned the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's (NATO) listing of African migrants as a "threat", after Spanish and Moroccan forces brutally pushed back hundreds of migrants and massacred dozens of them over a week ago.
At the end of June, at least 23 African migrants were killed by Moroccan and Spanish forces while attempting to cross from Morocco into the Spanish enclave of Melilla. Footage, which went viral online, showed the two countries' border forces beating migrants who had been forced onto the ground.
Thinktank Transnational Institute (TNI) and global climate organisation 350.org have condemned the incident, which they say points to a wider trend of human rights abuses carried out by states to which the European Union has outsourced its border regime, in order to avoid accountability.
In an effort to maintain the perception that European countries and the EU are committed to human rights, the continent "outsources much of the violence necessary to maintain its border policies to non-EU countries – allowing it to avoid political blowback, and legal claims of abuse that may stop the system functioning."
Days after the Melilla deaths, Spain held NATO's annual summit in its capital, Madrid, from 28-30 June, and pushed for the alliance to add migration from the south as one of the major threats facing the country. Nato subsequently did list migration from Africa as a threat to the bloc for the first time, in line with increasing references to migration in military strategies such as the EU's Strategic Compass earlier this year. NATO's new Strategic Concept now makes specific reference to migration and, for the first time, migration across the Sahel region, as a key threat.
Campaigners predict that the consequences of NATO's listing are set to become even more serious in the event of migration triggered by future climate crises.
"Across the Global North, public money is being funneled into the brutal and burgeoning border-security and surveillance industry that promises to tackle the "threat of climate refugees " with a "Global Climate Wall", said May Boeve, Chief Executive of 350.org. "The industry's lobbyists and political allies claim that advanced networks of weapons, walls, drones, surveillance technology, and lawfare will be needed to protect powerful countries against future waves of climate displacement."
"We must safeguard the right of people both to move and the right to stay", Boeve added. "By making climate finance to help at-risk communities build resilience and limit migration is essential. But also to finance and facilitate the safe movement of people when it is necessary."
Niamh Ní Bhriain, of the TNI's War and Pacification Programme concurred. "It's not surprising that Nato has now turned its attention to migration using the horrific massacre on the Moroccan – Spanish border as a pretext for this. Rather it is more of the same – militarise border policies by any and all means possible."
"International Law provides for the right to move and seek asylum and states have a legal obligation to uphold that right. Framing people on the move as posing a threat to the security of Europe and expanding Nato's mandate to deal with this 'threat' is a shameful distortion of the reality that there are tens of thousands of people on the move towards Europe in search of safety, many displaced as a direct result of European neo-colonialist policies that often keep African nations under the thumb of their former colonial powers."
The criticism comes as Morocco handed down sentences last week to migrants involved in the Melilla border crossing.