At least 18 migrants of African origin died during an attempt to enter the Spanish enclave of Melilla, in northern Morocco, on Friday morning.
At least 18 migrants of African origin died during an attempted entry on Friday morning of nearly 2,000 of them into the Spanish enclave of Melilla, in northern Morocco, according to an updated report from the Moroccan authorities, umpteenth drama of migration at the gates of the European Union. “Thirteen irregular migrants injured during the assault on the city of Melilla died in the evening from their serious injuries,” a source from the authorities of the province of Nador told AFP on Friday evening.
A first report by these same authorities reported five dead and 76 injured, including 13 seriously, among the migrants, and 140 members of the police injured, including 5 seriously. The victims were killed “in jostling and falling from the iron fence” which separates the Spanish enclave from Moroccan territory, during “an assault marked by the use of very violent methods by migrants” , said the same source.
Contacted by AFP, the Spanish Civil Guard, which monitors the other side of the fence, assured that it had no information on this tragedy, referring to Morocco. Very early Saturday morning, calm reigned in Nador, a Moroccan city bordering Melilla, as well as on the border of the Spanish enclave, without police deployment, AFP journalists noted. Located on the northern coast of Morocco, Melilla and the other Spanish enclave of Ceuta are the EU’s only land borders on the African continent and are regularly subject to attempted entry by migrants seeking to reach the ‘Europe.
“Very heavy balance sheet”
This massive entry attempt began around 6:40 a.m. when a group of “nearly 2,000 migrants (…) began to approach Melilla”, according to the prefecture. “More than 500” of them “from sub-Saharan African countries” then forced the entry of the border post with “shears”, added the prefecture, according to which 133 managed to return. Traveling to Brussels for an EU summit, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez denounced a “violent assault” fomented by “mafias who traffic in human beings”.
Omar Naji, of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH), confirmed to AFP that “clashes” had taken place overnight from Thursday to Friday between migrants and Moroccan agents. Spanish media had already reported violence in recent days between illegal immigrants and police in the border area of Melilla.
The AMDH section in Nador called for the opening of “a serious investigation to determine the circumstances of this very heavy toll” which shows that “the migration policies followed are deadly with borders and barriers that kill”. This massive entry attempt into one of the two Spanish enclaves is the first since the normalization of relations between Madrid and Rabat in mid-March, after a diplomatic quarrel lasting almost a year.
The crisis between the two countries had been caused by the reception in Spain of the leader of the Sahrawi separatists of the Polisario Front, Brahim Ghali, in April 2021, to be treated there for Covid-19. It culminated in the entry in May 2021 of more than 10,000 migrants in 24 hours in Ceuta, thanks to a relaxation of controls on the Moroccan side. Madrid then denounced an “aggression” on the part of Rabat, which had recalled its ambassador to Spain.
Pedro Sanchez put an end to this estrangement by publicly supporting the Moroccan autonomy plan for Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony 80% controlled by Rabat but claimed by the Polisario, supported by Algeria. In early April, King Mohammed VI received him in Rabat to seal this reconciliation.
For Madrid, the main purpose of this normalization is to ensure Rabat’s “cooperation” in controlling illegal immigration. Much criticized internally for his reversal on the Sahara, Mr. Sanchez welcomed Friday the “extraordinary cooperation” of Rabat in migration matters which demonstrates, according to him, “the need to have the best of relations”.
Just before this reconciliation, Melilla had been the scene of several forced passage attempts in early March, including the largest ever recorded in this enclave, with some 2,500 migrants. Nearly 500 made it that day. Morocco, from where most of the migrants leave for Spain, has been regularly accused in the past of using them as a means of pressure on Spain. The calming of relations with Morocco has led to a recent drop in arrivals to Spain.
According to the Interior Ministry, the number of migrants arriving in the Spanish archipelago of the Canary Islands in April, the first month following normalization, was 70% lower than in February.