Some 2,500 migrants, refugees try to cross Spain’s Melilla border

About 500 people manage to cross into the Spanish enclave after clashing with Moroccan police to scale a high fence.

A group of migrants walk wrapped in thermal blankets at a holding centre for migrants in the Spanish North African enclave of Melilla
A group of migrants walk wrapped in thermal blankets at a holding centre for migrants in Melilla last year [File: Javier Bernardo/AP]

About 2,500 migrants and refugees from countries in sub-Saharan Africa have tried cross the border fence separating the Spanish enclave of Melilla from Morocco, with about 500 managing to do so, in one of the largest influxes in recent years.

The people on Wednesday used “hooks” to scale the high fence that separates the tiny territory from Morocco and threw rocks at police, the Spanish government’s local delegation said in a statement.

“The great violence used by the migrants … overwhelmed the Moroccan security forces who were trying to prevent them from reaching the fence,” it said.

Three Spanish Guardia Civil police suffered “slight injuries” in the incident and three migrants were also treated for injuries near the fence.

Favoured entry points

Melilla and Ceuta, another Spanish territory in North Africa, have the European Union’s only land borders with Africa.

They are favoured entry points for African migrants and refugees seeking a better life in Europe, who get there by either climbing over the border fence or by swimming along the coast.

Claimed by Morocco, the two cities have long been a flashpoint in diplomatic relations between Rabat and Madrid, which insists both are integral parts of Spain.

A border fence in Melilla, Spain
A security fence separates Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Melilla [File: Jose Colon/AP]

In mid-May 2021, Spain was caught off guard when more than 10,000 people swam or used small inflatable boats to cross into Ceuta territory as the Moroccan border forces looked the other way.

The influx took place during a diplomatic crisis between Madrid and Rabat over Western Sahara, which has long pushed for independence from Morocco.

Madrid had angered Morocco by allowing the leader of Western Sahara’s independence movement into Spain for hospital treatment for a severe case of COVID-19, sparking a tetchy standoff between the two countries.

The unprecedented border breach was widely seen as a punitive move by Rabat. Last year, 1,092 migrants and refugees managed to enter Melilla, a 23 percent drop from 2020, according to interior ministry figures.

Source: News Agencies