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Hundreds of migrants cross into Spanish enclave

July 22, 2021

A group of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa managed to scale the fences at Melilla's border in a large group, a common tactic to avoid capture. It was the latest in a series of breaches of the Moroccan border with Spain.

A group of migrants who scaled the Melilla fence are quarantined at a reception center, July 22, 2021.
A group of migrants who scaled the Melilla fence are quarantined at a reception centerImage: EUROPA PRESS/dpa/picture alliance

Some 230 migrants entered Spain's North African enclave of Melilla on Thursday, the Spanish delegation in the territory said.

The men, who mostly came from sub-Saharan Africa, scaled the 6-meter (20-foot) border fence and rushed into the enclave. Three Spanish police officers and 18 of the migrants were injured, Spanish state TV broadcaster RTVE reported.

In a statement, the Spanish government delegation in Melilla said "a huge influx" of migrants had tried to cross the border at 6:50 a.m.. 

Despite the fact that the border fence was equipped with "anti-intrusion" measures, the men used "hooks" to scale it, the statement read.

Video footage posted by local newspaper El Faro de Melilla showed the migrants walking down a street shouting "victory, victory" and "asylum, asylum." They were taken to an emergency reception center and put into quarantine, a COVID precaution.

Tension between Madrid and Rabatt

Spain controls two autonomous towns in North Africa: Ceuta on the Strait of Gibraltar and Melilla, 250 kilometers to the east. Both are protected by fences fortified with barbed wire, video cameras and watchtowers. They effectively constitute gateways into the EU on the African continent.

Tens of thousands of Africans are currently waiting near Ceuta and Melilla.

The rushing of the fence in groups is a common occurrence, but Thursday's incident comes at a time of tension between Morocco and Spain. Two months prior, more than 8,000 people entered Spain's other enclave of Ceuta, when Moroccan guards let them pass, seeminlgy to punish Spain, during a diplomatic disagreement between the two countries.

Madrid had angered Morocco by allowing the leader of Western Sahara's independence movement into Spain for treatment for a severe case of COVID-19.

Over 100 rescued near Tunisia

Despite the dangerous conditions at sea, migrants are continuing to attempt to reach Europe from other coasts of the Mediterranean. 

Tunisia rescued some 166 migrants on Thursday, who had been stranded at sea for nearly a week. Authorities recovered the bodies of 16 others who died, security officials said.

The migrants rescued included 65 Moroccans, 62 Bangladeshis and 15 Egyptians, aged 15 to 48. They had set off from Libya overnight Friday to Saturday, Tunisian Defense Ministry spokesman Mohamed Zekri said.

The route between Libya and Europe is considered the most dangerous one across the Mediterranean.

So far this year, more than 890 people are known to have died attempting to cross the Mediterranean, the International Organization for Migration said. 

jcg/msh (dpa, AFP)