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18 migrants die in mass attempt to enter Spain’s enclave Melilla in Marocco

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At least 18 African migrants have been killed when a huge crowd tried to enter the Spanish enclave of Melilla in northern Morocco, according to an update from Moroccan authorities.

About 2,000 migrants approached Melilla at dawn on Friday and more than 500 managed to enter a border control area after cutting a fence with scissors, the local Spanish government delegation said in a statement. Moroccan officials late Friday said 13 migrants had died from injuries sustained during the raid, in addition to five confirmed dead earlier in the day.

“Some fell from the top of the barrier” separating the two sides, a Moroccan official said, adding that 140 security personnel and 76 migrants were injured while attempting to cross. The Spanish Guardia Civil, which monitors the other side of the fence, said it had no information about the tragedy and referred the investigation to Morocco.

The border of the Spanish enclave and the neighboring Moroccan city of Nador was calm early on Saturday, with no police deployment, AFP journalists said. Morocco had deployed a “large” number of troops to try to fend off the attack on the border, which were “actively cooperating” with Spanish security forces, it said in a statement.

Images on Spanish media showed exhausted migrants lying on the sidewalk in Melilla, some with bloodied hands and torn clothes. During his speech in Brussels, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez condemned the “violent attack”, which he blamed on “mafias who carry out human trafficking”.

Migrating Magnet

Melilla and Ceuta, Spain’s other small North African enclave, have the European Union’s only land borders with Africa, making them a magnet for migrants. On Thursday night, migrants and security forces had been “clashes” on the Moroccan side of the border, Omar Naji of the Moroccan human rights organization AMDH told AFP. Several of them were hospitalized in Nador, he added.

The AMDH’s Nador chapter called for the opening of “a serious investigation to determine the circumstances of this very heavy toll”, showing that “the migration policy followed is deadly with borders and barriers that are deadly”. It was the first massive raid since Spain and Morocco re-established diplomatic relations last month. In March, Spain put an end to a year-long diplomatic crisis by backing Morocco’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara, which goes back to its decades-long neutrality.

Sanchez then visited Rabat and the two governments praised a “new phase” in relations. The spat began when Madrid allowed Brahim Ghali, leader of Western Sahara’s pro-independence front, to be treated for Covid-19 in a Spanish hospital in April 2021. as border guards looked the other way, in what was widely seen by Rabat as a punitive gesture.

Rabat calls for Western Sahara to be given autonomous status under Moroccan sovereignty, but the Polisario Front wants a UN-controlled referendum on self-determination, as agreed in a 1991 ceasefire agreement. In the days just before Morocco and Spain eased their ties, there were several attempted mass crossings of migrants to Melilla, including one involving 2,500 people, the largest attempt ever. Nearly 500 made it across.

‘Pressure medium’

The patching up of relations with Morocco – the departure point for many migrants – has led to a decline in arrivals, especially in the Atlantic Canary Islands in Spain. The number of migrants reaching the Canary Islands in April was 70 percent lower than in February, government figures show.

Sanchez warned earlier this month that “Spain will not tolerate any use of the tragedy of illegal immigration as leverage”. Spain will attempt to list “irregular migration” as one of the security threats to NATO’s southern flank when the alliance meets for a summit in Madrid on June 29-30.

Over the years, thousands of migrants have tried to cross the 12-kilometer-long border between Melilla and Morocco, or the eight-kilometer-long border of Ceuta, by climbing the barriers, swimming along the coast or hiding in vehicles. The two areas are protected by barbed wire fences, video cameras and watchtowers. Migrants sometimes use hooks and sticks to climb over the border fence and throw stones at the police.


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