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People smugglers jailed in Spain over migrant deaths

Two people smugglers have been sentenced to nine years each in prison for the deaths of four Moroccan migrants who drowned after they were forced to jump out of a boat near the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in north Africa last year.

The prosecutor’s office in Ceuta said the sentences were decided without trial after a plea deal was reached with the men.

The office said the pair – one from Ceuta and a Moroccan resident – picked up nine young men in a recreational boat in Morocco in January 2023 with the intention of getting them to Spanish territory illegally.

As winds grew stronger on approaching the port city of Ceuta, the smugglers forced the migrants to jump into the water and swim to shore.

Five of them managed to do so but the others drowned. Their bodies were found days later.

The two people smugglers were each charged with four counts of negligent homicide and an offence against the rights of foreign nationals.

Prior to the plea deal being reached, the prosecution had sought 32-year prison sentences.

The two men were also ordered to pay €205,000 in compensation to each of the victims’ families.

The suspects were arrested in March 2023 following an investigation by Spanish Civil Guard police, based on videos recorded by the migrants minutes before they jumped into the rough waters.

In another recent case, Spanish police arrested three people for the deaths of five migrants who were threatened with a machete and forced to jump off the boat they were traveling in with dozens of other migrants off the Spanish mainland’s southern coast last November.

Most migrants trying to enter Ceuta or Melilla – Spain’s other enclave in north Africa – from Morocco do so by trying to cross the huge border fences.

Tens of thousands of migrants from sub-Saharan countries fleeing poverty, conflict and instability in West Africa try to reach Spain each year by boat.

Most go in large open vessels to the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean, while others from Morocco, Algeria and Middle Eastern countries try to cross the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean to mainland Spain.

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