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Migrants force way into Spanish enclave

More than 200 African migrants break through border fence into Spain's north African territory of Melilla.

Last updated: 28 Feb 2014 13:16
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The crossing follows the drownings of at least 14 African migrants in Moroccan waters while attempting to enter Ceuta by sea earlier this month. [AFP]

More than 200 migrants have stormed across a triple-layer border fence into Spain's north African territory of Melilla, in one of the largest such crossings in years, Spanish authorities say.

Around 300 people at dawn on Friday attempted to cross into the Spanish city, which lies on the northern tip of Morocco, and 214 made it across, they said.

"They were singing songs of joy through various parts of the city," the Spanish government authority in Melilla said in a statement.

The crossing began at 6am as migrants assembled on the Moroccan side of the border.

"The crossing was marked by throwing of all kinds of objects - stones, sticks and bottles - at police," the statement said.

One Spanish officer was grazed on the scalp and another lightly bruised on the leg.

The incident was the latest in a series of coordinated incursions by African migrants on the border of Melilla, which along with fellow Spanish territory Ceuta has the European Union's only land borders with Africa.

The two cities sit across the Mediterranean from mainland Spain, surrounded by Moroccan territory.

At least 14 migrants drowned in Moroccan waters on February 6 while trying to enter Ceuta by sea after several hundred tried to storm the land border.

Spanish security forces were accused by human rights groups and witnesses of firing rubber bullets at the immigrants, prompting a heated debate in Spain.

This week, Spain's interior ministry said it had banned border guards from firing rubber bullets to stop migrants breaking through the fence into its north African territories.

The ministry said civil guards fired rubber bullets, but denied this action contributed to the drownings.

The 480 person-capacity immigration centre in Melilla has overflowed in recent days, brimming with more than 1,000 people.

On February 17, about 150 African migrants made it into Melilla in another mass crossing by migrants bearing sticks and stones.

Around 500 migrants stormed the fence on Monday and about 100 made it over in what an official described as a "very violent assault" that left 27 people injured.

Spanish authorities last year put barbed wire on top of the barrier as a deterrent, drawing criticism from rights groups.

Migrants trying to get to Europe camp on the Moroccan side, waiting for the chance to scale the fence. Thousands try each year to enter the city and Spain's other coastal enclave, Ceuta.

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AFP
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