Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairman of the African Union Commission said on Monday that he was shocked at the “degrading treatment of African migrants”.
Morocco’s interior ministry said in a statement that 23 people died on Friday due to what it described as a “stampede” after about 2,000 refugees and migrants tried to climb the metal border fence.
The Moroccan authorities said that 140 police officers were also wounded in the violence.
Mahamat called for “an immediate investigation into the matter and remind all countries of their obligations under international law to treat all migrants with dignity and to prioritize their safety and human rights, while refraining from the use of excessive force.”
Friday’s incident had the highest death toll in years of such attempts to cross the frontier at Melilla, a common crossing point for refugees and migrants seeking a better life in Europe.
Melilla and Ceuta are the European Union’s only land borders with Africa and are protected by fences fortified with barbed wire and surveillance cameras.
The deadly crossing was the first since Spain and Morocco mended relations earlier this year, after a spat triggered by Rabat laying claim to the disputed region of Western Sahara.
Last week, several non-governmental organisations released a joint statement demanding a probe into the treatment of refugees and migrants as they attempted to cross the border. The AMDH specifically pleaded against burying the bodies without an investigation.