Morocco: 18 migrants die trying to enter Melilla in Spain | Migration News

Deaths have occurred during an attempted mass crossing to the Spanish North African enclave by some 2,000 migrants, officials say.

Moroccan authorities said 18 migrants were killed and dozens of migrants and police injured in a “rush” of people trying to enter the Spanish North African enclave of Melilla.

A spokesman for the Spanish government’s office in Melilla said around 2,000 people tried to enter the North African city on Friday morning and in a fierce two-hour skirmish around 130 people had succeeded in crossing the border between Morocco and the Spanish enclave.

Morocco’s Interior Ministry said in a statement that the casualties occurred when refugees and migrants attempted to scale an iron border fence separating the two territories. Five migrants were killed and 76 injured, and 140 Moroccan security officers were injured, the ministry said.

Thirteen of the injured migrants later died in hospital, bringing the death toll to 18, according to Morocco’s official news agency MAP, which cited local authorities. The Moroccan Association for Human Rights reported 27 dead but the figure could be immediately confirmed.

Spanish officials said 49 Civil Guards were lightly injured. Four police vehicles were damaged by stones thrown by some migrants.

Footage released by Spanish media showed exhausted refugees and migrants lying on the pavement in Melilla, some with bloody hands and torn clothes. Those who managed to cross went to a local center for migrants, where authorities were assessing their situation.

The incident at the border crossing was the first since Morocco and Spain restored diplomatic relations in March.

“A large group of sub-Saharans [Africans] … passed through the access gate of the Barrio Chino border checkpoint and entered Melilla by jumping over the roof of the checkpoint,” the Spanish government delegation to the area said in an earlier statement.

“All [are] men and apparently adults,” he added. The migrants arrived at the crossing point around 06:40 local time (0440 GMT) and the crossing took place at 08:40 (06:40 GMT).

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.

Morocco deployed a “large” number of forces to try to push the crowds back from the border and “cooperated actively” with Spanish security forces, the Spanish delegation said in a separate statement.

In March this year, Spain ended a year-long diplomatic crisis by backing Morocco’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara, reversing its decades-long position of neutrality.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez then visited Rabat, and the two governments hailed a “new stage” in relations.

The dispute began when Madrid allowed Brahim Ghali, leader of the separatist 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 Moroccan border guards looked the other way, in what was widely seen as a punitive gesture by Rabat.

Rabat is calling for Western Sahara to have autonomous status under Moroccan sovereignty, but the Sahrawi Polisario movement wants a UN-supervised referendum on self-determination, as agreed in a 1991 ceasefire pact.

In the days leading up to the end of their diplomatic crisis between Morocco and Spain, several mass migrant crossing attempts took place in Melilla, including one involving 2,500 people, the largest such attempt on record.

The reestablishment of Spanish ties with Morocco led to a drop in arrivals and the number of migrants who reached the Canary Islands in April was 70% lower than in February, according to government figures.


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