Morocco said 18 migrants died on Friday as they tried to cross into Spain’s North African enclave of Melilla, following a violent two-hour skirmish between migrants and border officials that also led to numerous injuries.
About 2,000 migrants stormed a high fence sealing the enclave. This led to clashes with security forces as more than 100 migrants managed to cross from Morocco to Melilla, Moroccan and Spanish authorities said.
Morocco’s Interior Ministry initially said five migrants were killed in the border attack, some after falling from the fence around Melilla and others in a crush, and that 76 migrants were injured. It later said an additional 13 had died.
About 140 members of Moroccan security forces were also injured, it added, five seriously, though none of them died.
Over the past decade, Melilla and Ceuta, a second Spanish enclave also off the north coast of Africa, have become magnets for mostly sub-Saharan migrants trying to enter Europe.
Friday’s effort began at about 6:40 a.m. in the face of resistance from Moroccan security forces.
Two hours later, more than 500 migrants began entering Melilla and jumped over the roof of a border checkpoint after cutting through fences with a bolt cutter, the Madrid government’s representative body there said in a statement.
Most were forced back, but about 130 men managed to reach the enclave and were processed at its immigrant reception center, it added.
Footage posted on social media showed large groups of African youths walking along roads around the border, where they were entering Melilla, and how the authorities were apparently firing tear gas.
Spanish authorities said the border raid resulted in 57 migrants and 49 Spanish police being injured.
‘Trafficking in human beings’
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has paid tribute to officials on both sides of the border for combating “a well-organized, violent assault” he proposed was organized by “human trafficking mafias”.
He underlined the improvement in relations between Madrid and Rabat. In March, Spain recognized Morocco’s position vis-à-vis Western Sahara, an area that the North African nation claims as its own, but where an Algeria-backed independence movement demands the establishment of an autonomous state.
“I would like to thank the extraordinary cooperation we have with the Kingdom of Morocco which shows the need for the best relations,” he said.
AMDH Nador, a Moroccan human rights group, said the raid came a day after migrants clashed with Moroccan security personnel trying to clear camps they had set up in a forest near Melilla.
The watchdog’s chief, Omar Naji, told Reuters the clash had been part of an “intense crackdown” on migrants since Spanish and Moroccan forces resumed joint patrols and strengthened security measures in the area around the enclave.
The invasion was the first significant one since Spain took its more pro-Rabat stance on Western Sahara.
In the weeks of 2022 before that shift, migrant entries in the two enclaves more than tripled compared to the same period of 2021.
By mid-2021, as many as 8,000 people were swimming in Ceuta or climbing over its fence in a few days, taking advantage of the apparent lifting of a safety net on the Moroccan side of the border following a bilateral diplomatic struggle.
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