At least 18 migrants have been killed trying to cross into Spain’s North African exclave of Melilla after a violent two-hour skirmish with border officials that also resulted in numerous injuries
About 2,000 migrants stormed a high fence enclosing the exclave, which borders Morocco, leading to clashes with security forces when more than 100 migrants managed to cross Melilla, authorities said.
The Moroccan Interior Ministry initially said that five migrants were killed in the border raid, some after falling from the fence around Melilla and others in the twinkling of an eye, and that 76 migrants were injured. It was later said that another 13 had died.
140 Moroccan security forces were also injured, five of them seriously.
Over the past decade, Melilla and Ceuta, a second Spanish exclave also on Africa’s northern coast, have become a magnet for mostly sub-Saharan migrants trying to enter Europe.
Friday’s attempt began at dawn local time, despite resistance from Moroccan security forces.
More than 500 migrants started entering Melilla and jumped over the roof of a border checkpoint after breaking a fence with bolt cutters, the representative body of the government of Madrid said in a statement.
Most were driven back, but about 130 men managed to make it to the exclave and were taken care of at the immigrant reception center, it said.
Footage on social media shows large groups of African youth walking along roads along the border, celebrating their entry into Melilla and the authorities firing tear gas.
According to the Spanish authorities, 57 migrants and 49 Spanish police officers were injured while crossing the border.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez paid tribute to agents on both sides of the border for repelling “a well-organized, violent attack”, which he suggested was organized by “human trafficking mafia”.
He also underlined the improvement of relations between Madrid and Rabat.
In March, Spain recognized Morocco’s position vis-a-vis Western Sahara, an area the North African nation claims as its own but where an Algeria-backed independence movement is demanding the creation of an autonomous state.
“I want to thank the extraordinary cooperation we have with the Kingdom of Morocco, which shows the need to have the best relations,” said Sánchez.
AMDH Nador, a Moroccan human rights watchdog, said the raid came a day after migrants clashed with Moroccan security personnel who were trying to clear the camps they had set up in a forest near Melilla.
The head of the watchdog, Omar Naji, told Reuters the clash was part of an “intense crackdown” on migrants since Spanish and Moroccan forces resumed joint patrols and strengthened security measures in the area around the exclave.
The raid was the first significant since Spain adopted its more pro-Rabat stance over Western Sahara.
In the weeks of 2022 leading up to that shift, the number of migrants entering Spain’s two exclaves had more than tripled compared to the same period in 2021.
By mid-2021, as many as 8,000 people swam into Ceuta or scrambled over the fence in a matter of days, using the apparent lifting of a safety net on the Moroccan side of the border after a diplomatic altercation.