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More Than 2,000 Migrants Storm Fence Into Spanish Enclave Bordering Morocco

Five migrants were killed and dozens were injured after a huge crowd tried to cross from Morocco into Spain ‘s Melilla enclave today.

Some 2,000 migrants made approached the EU’s only land border with Africa at dawn over 500 managed to enter a border control area after cutting a fence with shears, the Spanish government’s local delegation said in a statement.

Of these 130 sub-Saharan African migrants, ‘all of them men and apparently adults’, managed to enter Melilla, it added.

A Moroccan official from the nearby border town of Nador said ‘five deaths were recorded after they stormed the border and some fell from the top of the barrier’ separating the two sides. He said 140 security personnel and 76 migrants were injured during the attempt to cross, the first such mass incursion since Spain and Morocco mended diplomatic relations last month.

The Spanish government’s local delegation said only that 49 Spanish police officers were lightly injured while 57 migrants suffered injuries of varying degrees, including three who were hospitalised.

Morocco had deployed a ‘large’ number of forces to try to repel the assault on the border, who ‘cooperated actively’ with Spain’s security forces, it said earlier in a statement.

Images on Spanish media showed exhausted migrants laying on the sidewalk in Melilla, some with bloodied hands and torn clothes.

Speaking in Brussels, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez condemned the ‘violent assault’ which he blamed on ‘mafias who traffic in human beings’.

Video showed the migrants cheering and raising their arms in celebration as they ran through the streets of Melilla after storming the fence.

There are fears that drought in Africa and surging food prices – even before the war made shipping Ukrainian grain to Somalia, Egypt and other poor nations impossible – could drive up the number of migrants fleeing to Europe.

AMDH Nador, a Moroccan human rights watchdog, said the incursion came a day after migrants clashed with Moroccan security personnel attempting to clear camps they had set up in a forest near Melilla.

The watchdog’s head, Omar Naji, told Reuters that clash was part of an ‘intense crackdown’ on migrants since Spanish and Moroccan forces resumed joint patrols and reinforced security measures in the area around the enclave.

Morocco deployed a ‘large’ amount of forces to try to repel the assault on the border on Friday, who ‘cooperated actively’ with Spain’s security forces, the local delegation said earlier in a separate statement.

But a ‘significant number’ managed to get in to Melilla, it said, adding that the migrants were ‘perfectly organised and violent’.

Images on Spanish media showed exhausted migrants laying on the sidewalk in Melilla, some with bloodied hands and torn clothes.

Those who succeeded in crossing went to a local migrant center, where authorities were evaluating their circumstances.

A spokesperson for the Spanish government’s office in Melilla, who could not be identified by name in keeping with government rules, said several hundred people remained gathered on the Moroccan side.

People fleeing poverty and violence sometimes make mass attempts to reach Melilla and the other Spanish territory on the North African coast, Ceuta, as a springboard to continental Europe.

Spain normally relies on Morocco to keep migrants away from the border.

At the beginning of March, more than 3,500 people tried to scale the 20-foot (6-metre) barrier that perimeters Melilla, and nearly 1,000 making it across, according to Spanish authorities.

Friday’s crossings were the first attempt since relations between Spain and Morocco improved in March after a year-long dispute centered on the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony annexed by Morocco in 1976.

After ending the year-long diplomatic crisis, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez then visited Rabat, and the two governments hailed a ‘new stage’ in relations.

The row began when Madrid allowed Brahim Ghali, leader of Western Sahara’s pro-independence Polisario Front, to be treated for Covid-19 in a Spanish hospital in April 2021.

The row began when Madrid allowed Brahim Ghali, leader of Western Sahrara’s pro-independence Polisario Front, to be treated for Covid-19 in a Spanish hospital in April 2021.

A month later, some 10,000 migrants surged across the Moroccan border into Spain’s Ceuta enclave as border guards looked the other way, in what was widely seen as a punitive gesture by Rabat.

Rabat calls for the Western Sahara to have an autonomous status under Moroccan sovereignty but the Polisario wants a UN-supervised referendum on self-determination as agreed in a 1991 ceasefire agreement.

In the days just before Morocco and Spain patched up their ties, there were several attempted mass crossings of migrants in Melilla, including one involving 2,500 people, the largest such attempt on record. Nearly 500 made it across.

Patching up relationship with Morocco, the departure point for many migrants, has meant a drop in arrivals, notably in Spain’s Atlantic Canary Islands.

The number of migrants who reached the Canary Islands in April was 70 percent lower than in February, government figures show.

Sanchez earlier this month warned that ‘Spain will not tolerate any use of the tragedy of illegal immigration as a means of pressure.’

Spain will seek to have ‘irregular migration’ listed as one of the security threats on the NATO’s southern flank when the alliance gathers for a summit in Madrid on June 29-30.

Over the years, thousands of migrants have attempted to cross the 12-kilometre (7.5-mile) border between Melilla and Morocco, or Ceuta’s eight-kilometre border, by climbing the fences, swimming along the coast or hiding in vehicles.

The two territories are protected by fences fortified with barbed wire, video cameras and watchtowers.

The attempts include violent clashes between those crossing and the agents charged to stop them.

Migrants sometimes use hooks and sticks to try to climb the border fence, and throw stones at police.

Claimed by Morocco, the two cities have long been a flashpoint in diplomatic relations between Rabat and Madrid, which insists both are integral parts of Spain.

Earlier this month, five European Union nations on the Mediterranean who fear possible waves of refugees driven by hunger out of Africa called Saturday for an end to the EU’s ‘voluntary’ solidarity on migrants and a better way to redistribute the burden of caring for them.

The Interior ministers from Italy, Cyprus, Greece, Malta and Spain wrapped up two days of talks in Venice amid worries that the blockade of Ukraine grain exports due to Russia’s invasion could see huge numbers of refugees from Africa flooding southern Europe.

Cypriot Interior Minister Nicos Nouris told reporters that robust, common EU policy is needed on migration. ‘Solidarity is not a slogan, nor can it be void of substance,’ Nouris said.

Past EU policies in which member countries could offer to receive some of the hundreds of thousands of migrants landing in Italy, Greece and other southern shores proved grossly inadequate.

Many EU countries didn’t step forward. Others, even with they did pledge to receive modest numbers of some of the hundreds of thousands of migrants rescued from smugglers’ unseaworthy boats, didn’t follow through.

‘Solidarity in our mind cannot be voluntary,″ Nouris said.

He noted that after several years of Cyprus taking in migrants, now 5% of the eastern Mediterranean island nation’s population consists of asylum-seekers.

The meeting did not address the millions of Ukrainian refugees who recently flooded into northern EU nations like Poland, Hungary and Romania.

How Europe handles large numbers of migrants takes on particular urgency now, amid fears that drought in Africa and surging food prices even before the war made shipping Ukrainian grain to Somalia, Egypt and other poor nations impossible could drive up the already alarmingly numbers of hungry people.

In the Sahel, the part of Africa just below the Sahara desert, an estimated 18 million people are facing severe hunger as farmers endure their worst production season in more than a decade.

Italian Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese cited the blocking of grain in Ukraine as just another reason for the EU to develop a ‘adequate mechanism of distributing migrants’ among its members.

She also pressed for more repatriation agreements with countries whose people are seeking a better life in Europe but had their asylum bids rejected since they are fleeing poverty, not war or persecution.

Meanwhile, the UK is facing a migrant crisis, with thousands of migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats to reach Britain each month.

On Thursday, 138 people made the perilous journey in three boats, bringing the total number of migrants crossing the Channel in 2022 to 11,928 – almost double the 5,906 migrants who arrived in the same period last year.

Despite forecasts of stormy weather at sea, the first group of between 45 and 50 people were brought into Dover, Kent on board Border Force cutter Defender around 8am. Among them were a small number of women and children.

A second group of approximately 50 people were brought into the harbour on board Border Force vessel Ranger around 1pm. They could be seen wrapped in blue blankets and wearing red hats after battling cold conditions at sea.

It came as Prime Minister Boris Johnson and wife Carrie flew to Rwanda on an official visit amid controversial plans to send migrants to the African nation.

Mr Johnson has emphatically defended Britain’s plan, arguing that it is a legitimate way to protect lives and thwart the criminal gangs that smuggle migrants across the English Channel in small boats. Britain in recent years has seen an illegal influx of migrants from such places as Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Sudan, Iraq and Yemen.

But last week, Britain was forced to cancel a flight that was scheduled to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda after the European Court of Human Rights intervened, saying the plan carried ‘a real risk of irreversible harm.’

The decision to scrap the flight capped three days of frantic court challenges from immigrant rights lawyers who launched a flurry of case-by-case appeals seeking to block the deportation of everyone on the government’s list.

British government officials had said earlier in the day that the plane would take off no matter how many people were on board. But after the appeals, no one remained.

After the flight was canceled, Home Secretary Priti Patel said she was disappointed but would not be ‘deterred from doing the right thing.’ She added: ‘Our legal team are reviewing every decision made on this flight and preparation for the next flight begins now.’

So far this month 2,364 people have reached the UK in 59 dinghies and other small craft.

The busiest day was on June 14 when 444 people made the treacherous journey across the 21-mile Dover Straits.

According to official government figures, 28,526 people made the crossing in 2021 – compared to 8,410 who arrived in 2020.

Dover MP Natalie Elphicke has said: ‘These shocking figures underline yet again why urgent action is needed.

‘It’s disappointing that the efforts being made by the Government to save lives and stop the people traffickers are being undermined by people who should know better.

‘They should think again and support the action being taken to bring these treacherous journeys to an end.

‘Let’s not forget that these criminal smuggling gangs have a callous disregard for everyone.

‘Too many lives have been lost in doomed attempts to cross the English Channel. It needs to end.’