Hundreds of would-be immigrants tried to force their way into Spain’s North African enclave of Melilla during the early hours of Tuesday, the Moroccan government said, in what was one of the largest mass crossing attempts in years.
“At 7am, 600 illegal migrants tried to force the crossing to the occupied enclave of Melilla at Oued Tighorafine point, in the rural area of Beni Chiguer,” Morocco’s Interior Ministry said in a statement.
Some of the immigrants threw stones at security forces, injuring five officers.
Although they are on the coast of Morocco, the towns of Melilla and Ceuta are legally Spanish territory. A total of 102 immigrants were arrested during the incident, 28 of whom were injured and hospitalised in the nearby Moroccan city of Nador, the Interior Ministry said.
Abdelmalik El Barkani, the Spanish governor of Melilla, said that the crossing was “one of the biggest in recent years”.
Immigrants from all over Africa regularly try to reach the Spanish zones either by swimming along the coast or scaling the triple walls that separate them from Morocco.
Despite the dangers involved in trying to reach the two enclaves – injury and death are not uncommon – the number of those seeking to cross over has surged in recent months. Just hours before immigrants stormed Melilla on Tuesday morning, a separate group tried to breach the enclave’s perimeter, leading to the arrests of 150 people.
The last major attempt to cross into Melilla took place on February 28, when more than 200 immigrants stormed across the border. Thirty-five people were injured in the fray, according to officials and human rights groups.
In the weeks before that, the European Union asked Spain to explain why police had fired rubber bullets in warning at another group of African immigrants as they tried to swim to Ceuta. The shots caused panic, leading to the deaths of 14 people. Spain later banned border guards from using rubber bullets to repel immigrants.
Those who do succeed in reaching Spanish territory are generally placed in temporary centres while the authorities try to repatriate them. Some are eventually released and told they must leave Spain.
(FRANCE 24 AFP, AP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-03-18