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Migrants try new mass break-in at Spanish enclave

Around 1,200 migrants tried to storm the border separating Spain’s Melilla enclave from Morocco on Thursday, with 380 getting across, a day after the biggest such attempt on record.

The incident occurred a day after an unprecedented 2,500 migrants made a mass run at the border. Almost 500 managed to cross, in what the Spanish government’s local delegation said was “the biggest entry attempt on record”.

Officials said both incidents were characterised by an unusual level of violence and quickly moved to call in security reinforcements to deploy along the border.

“At around 7:25 am, after overcoming the Moroccan security forces, they began to jump the fence… throwing stones and using hooks and sticks against the security forces,” a delegation spokesman said.

Sabrina Moh Abdelkader, the government’s representative in Melilla, told reporters “380 migrants managed to enter the city”, raising an earlier figure of 350.

Moh also said both mass crossing bids were characterised by more violence than previous attempts.

“The level of aggression we’ve seen in both entries yesterday and today… has not been seen before,” she said.

Twenty officers sustained cuts and bruises or other light injuries on Thursday, she said. There was no immediate word on whether any migrants had been injured.

During Wednesday’s border rush, the delegation said some migrants had bolts screwed into their shoes to help them cross, which “being sharp, carries a huge risk” for the police and security forces.

That incident left 27 police and 20 migrants lightly injured, the delegation said, while on the other side of the border, the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH) said some 30 migrants had been hurt, three or four seriously.

On Thursday, the AMDH said 250 people had been arrested by the Moroccan security forces and placed in a temporary detention centre before being expelled from the border town of Nador, 10 kilometres (six miles) south of Melilla.

With 871 migrants entering Melilla in just under 24 hours, the figure is fast approaching that for the entire of 2021, when 1,092 migrants reached the enclave, interior ministry figures showed.

– 100 extra border police –

Moh said more migrants had tried to cross around midday on Thursday.

It was not immediately clear how many were involved nor whether any got across, although Melilla’s El Faro newspaper said the attempt was rebuffed.

She also said around 100 police would arrive in Melilla “in the next few hours” to reinforce the force at the border, while Maria Gamez, head of Spain’s Guardia Civil police, would also visit the enclave to assess the situation.

In a tweet, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said he had spoken to Melilla’s leader, Eduardo De Castro, to pass on the government’s “support and solidarity” and sent best wishes to all the injured officers.

Melilla and Ceuta, Spain’s other tiny North African enclave, are the European Union’s only land borders with Africa, making them a magnet for migrants desperate to escape grinding poverty or war.

Claimed by Morocco, the two enclaves have long been a point of dispute in bilateral diplomatic relations, with Madrid insisting both are integral parts of Spain.

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

– Western Sahara tensions –

That 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 Western Sahara independence leader Brahim Ghali into a Spanish hospital when he was very sick with Covid, sparking a tense diplomatic standoff, with the border breach widely seen as a punitive move by Rabat.

Late last month, Sanchez met Ghali on the sidelines of an EU-African Union summit in Brussels, in a move which further rattled Rabat.

“By meeting with the separatist leader in Brussels… Sanchez has shown that the Kingdom of Morocco was right not to believe in Spanish officials’ fine rhetoric,” wrote the Moroccan news website Le360.

Morocco’s ambassador to Spain was recalled for consultations during the Ceuta crisis and has still not returned to his post.