At least 18 African migrants died 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 shears, the local Spanish government delegation said in a statement. Moroccan officials said Friday evening that 13 migrants had died from injuries sustained during the incursion, in addition to five who were confirmed dead earlier in the day.
“Some fell from the top of the fence” separating the two sides, a Moroccan official said, adding that 140 security guards and 76 migrants were injured in the attempt to cross. Spain’s Civil Guard, which monitors the other side of the fence, said it had no information about the tragedy and referred inquiries to Morocco.
The border between the Spanish enclave and the neighboring Moroccan town of Nador was calm early Saturday, with no police deployment, AFP journalists noted. Morocco had deployed a “large” number of forces to try to repel the border assault, which “actively cooperated” with Spanish security forces, it said in a statement earlier.
Footage on Spanish media showed exhausted migrants lying on the pavement in Melilla, some with bloody hands and torn clothes. Speaking in Brussels, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez condemned “the violent aggression”, which he blamed on “mafias that traffic in human beings”.
Magnet of migrants Melilla and Ceuta, Spain’s other small North African enclave, have the European Union’s only land borders with Africa, making it a magnet for migrants. On Thursday evening, migrants and security forces had “clashed” on the Moroccan side of the border, Omar Naji of the Moroccan rights group AMDH told AFP. Several of them were hospitalized in Nador, he added.
The Nador section of the AMDH called for the opening of “a serious investigation to determine the circumstances of this very heavy toll” which shows that “the migration policies followed are murderous with borders and barriers that kill”. It was the first such mass incursion since Spain. and Morocco repaired diplomatic relations last month. In March, Spain ended a year-long diplomatic crisis by backing Morocco’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara, reversing its decades-old stance of neutrality.
Sanchez then traveled to Rabat, and the two governments hailed a “new stage” in relations. The row began when Madrid allowed Brahim Ghali, leader of the pro-independence Polisario Front for Western Sahara, to be treated for Covid-19 in a Spanish hospital in April. 2021. A month later, some 10,000 migrants crossed the Moroccan border into the Spanish enclave of Ceuta as border guards looked away, in what was widely seen as a punitive gesture by Rabat.
Rabat is demanding that Western Sahara be given autonomous status under Moroccan sovereignty, but the Polisario Front wants a UN-supervised referendum on self-determination, as agreed in a 1991 ceasefire agreement. In the days just before Until Morocco and Spain tighten their ties, there have been several attempts at a mass crossing of migrants to Melilla, including one involving 2,500 people, the largest such attempt on record. Nearly 500 made it across.
“Means of pressure” The tinkering of relations with Morocco, the starting point for many migrants, has led to a drop in arrivals, particularly in the Spanish islands of the Canary Atlantic. The number of migrants arriving in the Canary Islands in April was 70% lower than in February, according to government figures.
Earlier this month, Sanchez warned that “Spain will not tolerate any use of the tragedy of illegal immigration as leverage.” Spain will seek to list “irregular migration” as one of the security threats on NATO’s southern flank when the alliance meets for a summit in Madrid on June 29-30.
Over the years, thousands of migrants have attempted to cross the 12 kilometer (7.5 mile) border between Melilla and Morocco, or the eight kilometer border from Ceuta, by scaling the barriers, swimming along the coast or hiding in vehicles. Both territories are protected by fortified fences with barbed wire, video cameras and watchtowers. Migrants sometimes use hooks and sticks to try to scale the border fence and throw rocks at police.