Morocco launches anti-migrant sweep near Spain enclave

The Spanish government said more than 600 African migrants charged the fence separating Melilla from Morocco

Published: Updated:

Morocco launched a huge operation to dismantle migrant camps Tuesday near the Spanish enclave of Melilla, but 35 people still managed to cross illegally after hundreds stormed the border fence.

The Spanish government said more than 600 African migrants charged the fence separating Melilla from Morocco, and five were injured when at least 35 scaled the dangerously high barrier.

An official with the Moroccan Association of Human Rights, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, said security forces had begun a sweep of the Gourougou heights overlooking Melilla on Monday night.

“These migrants have been gathered up by the authorities, and are waiting to be moved in 20 requisitioned buses,” the source said, adding that some 1,000 people were involved.

Hicham Rachidi of Morocco’s GADEM anti-racist group said the operation was ongoing, and reported “several injured”.

At a news conference on Monday, the Moroccan authorities said they had conducted a review that had led to the regularisation of the status of nearly 18,000 migrants from a total of 27,300 cases filed.

Appeals are possible, and Rachidi said on Tuesday that a “moratorium should be maintained until the appeal committee finishes its job”.

There was no immediate comment from the ministry on Tuesday’s storming of the border fence with Melilla.

The migrants were the latest in a flow of thousands of people trying to reach Melilla or the other Spanish north African territory of Ceuta, which together make up Europe’s only borders with Africa.

Tuesday’s border assault came just hours after Morocco said it would dismantle camps set up around the two territories by thousands of African migrants.

Some 400 migrants approached the six-metre (20-foot), triple-layer fence around Melilla at around 2:00 am but were repelled by police, the Spanish government delegation in Melilla said in a statement.

Hours later another group of about 200 charged the fence at another spot and 35 managed to enter Melilla.

Five people were hurt, including two with fractured leg bones who needed hospital treatment, the statement said.

Abdelmalik El Barkani, the Spanish government’s delegate in Melilla, said the assault showed the need to maintain a strong police presence at the border.

“This is not an immigration model which we should accept, for the good of the immigrants,” he said.

Rights groups and the UN refugee agency have accused Spanish forces of using violence towards migrants trying to climb the border fences.

The flow of migrants seeking to enter Europe via Melilla has intensified, with more than 65 attempts to climb the fence in 2014, compared with 38 in 2013, Spain says.

Some 16,000 migrants tried to storm the Melilla fence last year and nearly 5,000 have made it over. In 2013 some 3,000 migrants managed to cross.