Spain said it would probably begin repatriating on Thursday illegal immigrants, who have flooded into Spanish enclaves in Morocco recently. Hours later, up to 1,500 mounted a fresh attempt to push through the border.
Spain is reinforcing Melilla's border to ward off illegal immigrants
"In the coming days, probably tomorrow, it is possible that there will be a repatriation of illegal immigrants (to Morocco)," said Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega. "This is an exceptional decision because it will be a first.
"In the coming days we will work to begin reactivating the 1992 accord between Spain and Morocco on the control of migration, which has never been applied," she added in a public statement.
Just a few hours after the comments were made up to 1,500 would-be immigrants mounted a fresh assault on Spain's north African enclave of Melilla early Thursday morning. But none of them were successful breaking through Spain's defenses, according to the police.
"There's been an assault which has been repelled by Moroccan and Spanish forces," a police spokesman told Reuters. "No one got in."
Sharp i n crease
Recent months have seen a sharp increase of such incidents in the Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta, involving people from many African countries determined to escape poverty and start a new life in Europe.
The latest assault took place in the Pinares de Rostrogordo zone where the perimeter fence has yet to be raised from three to six meters (10 to 20 feet) high, as is the case around the rest of the enclave, according to private Spanish radio Cadena Ser.
Illegal immigrants in front of the Melilla police station after they attempted to jump over the border fence
Medics in the zone treated many immigrants for cuts and bruises, and two were still under observation, police said, adding that two police members had also been injured. About 15 immigrants had to have plaster casts applied.
Fernandez de la Vega planned to travel to Melilla late Wednesday and then on to Ceuta on Thursday. Earlier Wednesday, she met the Conservative local government chiefs of Melilla and Ceuta, who have strongly criticized the administration's management of the crisis. They urged Zapatero to reaffirm Madrid's sovereignty in the two enclaves.
Seve n would-be immigra n ts dead
The latest immigrant invasion took place before dawn, the day after local Melilla government official Jose Fernandez Charcon announced that a third metal barrier would be set up to reinforce the border with Morocco.
EU Justice and Security Commissioner Franco Frattini on Tuesday said the bloc would shortly be sending a technical mission to investigate the worsening situation on the southern coast of the Mediterranean.
Spanish soldiers leave the Rostrogordo area of the border between Spain and Morocco in Spanish enclave of Melilla
Seven African would-be immigrants have died since the beginning of the summer during similar assaults, including five in Ceuta last Thursday. On Monday, 135 people were injured when around 650 stormed Melilla. Some 300 people broke into the same enclave in two mass stormings of the barrier, involving about 1,000 people, in a similar incident.
Spain has recently been accelerating plans to raise the border fence, equipped with infrared cameras and movement detectors, while Morocco is increasing police operations in forests bordering the enclaves. The earlier decision to beef up the barriers is believed to be behind the heavy immigrant influx recently.
After Wednesday's incident, Moroccan police arrested 85 immigrants, including 13 women, bringing the total number of such arrests since the beginning of the year to 6,167.