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Hundreds of migrants rush Spanish border

February 20, 2017

The latest attempt on the 6-meter high border fence came after Moroccan officials warned that the EU could prompt more people to try to cross the border unless it offered concessions in a trade dispute.

Spanien Marokko Zeltlager für Flüchtlinge in Ceuta
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Europa Press

More than 850 African migrants have cleared the border fence of the Spanish enclave of Ceuta since Friday, amid trade disputes between Morocco and the European Union.

Early Monday morning up to 700 mostly Sub-Saharan migrants attempted to cross the six-meter-high double fence into the north African enclave. About 350 of them made it through but 11 were injured in the process, the Red Cross and enclave authorities reported. Three people were hospitalized with serious injuries, including two police officers, authorities in Ceuta said.

"They entered after breaking through the border gates with shears and hammers," a spokesman for the prefecture told news agency AFP.

According to the source, the group entered "in the same hard-to-control area" as an attempt on Friday, when about 1,000 migrants rushed the border with about 500 of them reaching Spain.

The Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla have the only land borders between the African continent and the EU, and are often a focal point for attempted crossings.

Surveillance of the 8-kilometer border is carried out by Spain and Morocco. Recent high winds were tripping alarms on the border fence, making it difficult to patrol, Spanish news agency EFE reported.

More than 1,400 migrants were awaiting processing at the 512-capacity Temporary Immigrant Shelter Center in Ceuta on Monday, authorities said, adding that tents had been requested to house the latest arrivals in the parking lot of a nearby equestrian center.

Trade dispute means more could come

The mass-crossing came amid a trade dispute between Morocco and the EU over the interpretation of a free trade farm and fishing deal. In late 2016 an EU court ruled that the deal did not apply to the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony controlled by Rabat where the Polisario Front is fighting for independence.

The court said control of the disputed territory remained unclear and the EU did not recognize it as part of Morocco.

The decision angered Morocco, which in a warning on February 7 suggested it could lead to "a new flow of migration" towards Europe and place the continent "at risk."

The Moroccan Ministry of Agriculture warned that Europe was exposed to a "real risk of a resumption of migratory flows that Morocco, through a sustained effort, managed to control."

On the night of New Year's Eve about 1,100 people had tried in vain to cross the border. On December 9, 2016, about 800 migrants attempted to cross the border with half making it across.

Spain has controlled Ceuta since 1580 and Melilla since 1496, dating back to its war with the mainly Muslim Moors of northern Africa. Ceuta has a population of 87,000 inhabitants on less than 20 square kilometers (7.7 square miles) while the city of Melilla has more than 80,000 inhabitants on 12.5 square kilometers.

aw/msh (AFP, Reuters, dpa, EFE, AP)