African migrants sit atop a border fence by a golf course during an attempt to cross into Spanish territories between Morocco and Spain's north African enclave of Melilla on October 23, 2014.

(Madrid) – The Spanish government should immediately drop its plans to provide a legal basis for summary returns from its enclaves in North Africa, 13 human rights groups said today.

The Spanish and international organizations wrote to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of migrants, François Crépeau, and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, urging them to press the Spanish government to withdraw a proposed amendment to Spain’s immigration law.

“On the spot (or “summary”) returns prevent asylum seekers from seeking the protection they need and deny all migrants a range of rights,” the groups wrote. “Sending people straight back to Morocco without any procedural safeguards is a clear breach of European and international human rights law.”

The letters were made public on October 30, 2014, as Anne Brasseur, the president of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, began a two-day visit to Spain. Brasseur should urge Spanish authorities to abandon this deplorable effort to formalize an abusive practice and instead ensure full respect for migrants’ and asylum seekers’ rights at its borders, the groups said.

Spain’s ruling Popular Party is seeking to use an amendment on public security to introduce provisions into Spain’s immigration law that allow for rejections at the border in Ceuta and Melilla. Introducing the amendment at this stage means there will be no assessment of the human rights impact from the new amendment.

The proposed change would carve out an exception for border officials in the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla to deny migrants and asylum seekers the safeguards they are guaranteed under current law. If adopted, the amendment would formalize an ongoing but unlawful practice of summarily returning migrants and asylum seekers to Morocco even after they have reached Spanish territory. In some cases, Spanish Civil Guards have also used excessive force to return people.

Automatic returns of this kind violate European law, as well as international human rights and refugee law obligations undertaken by Spain. In particular, it could lead to violations of the right to asylum, the prohibition against torture and other forms of ill-treatment, the non-refoulement obligation not to send migrants back to the risk of persecution, the right to an effective remedy and reparation for victims of human rights violations, as well as the prohibition on collective expulsions. The European Court of Human Rights recently ruled that Italy’s practice of summary returns from Italy to Greece deprived individuals of access to the asylum procedure, exposed them to the risk of inhuman or degrading treatment, and violated their rights to an effective remedy and protection against collective expulsions.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has expressed concern about the Spanish government’s plans, noting that many of those arriving in the enclaves are fleeing war, violence, and persecution in countries like Syria, the Central African Republic, and Mali.

These groups signed the letters: Alianza por la Solidaridad, Amnesty International, Andalucía Acoge, Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de Andalucía, Comisión Española de Ayuda al Refugiado, European Council on Refugees and Exiles, Federación de Asociaciones de S.O.S Racismo del Estado español, Fundación Abogacía Española, Human Rights Watch, Jueces para la Democracia, Prodein, Red Acoge, and Rights International Spain.