Spain: Hundreds of migrants break through Melilla border fence | Migration News

The mass crossing is the first since Spain and Morocco resolved a diplomatic row over Western Sahara.

Hundreds of migrants have broken through the border between the Spanish enclave of Melilla and Morocco in the first attempted mass crossing since the two nations re-established diplomatic ties in March.

“A large group of sub-Saharans [Africans] … broke through the entrance gate of the border checkpoint Barrio Chino and entered Melilla by jumping over the roof of the checkpoint,” the Spanish government delegation in the area said in a statement on Friday.

“All [are] men and apparently adults,” it added. The migrants arrived at the crossing at approximately 06:40 AM local time (04:40 GMT) and the crossing took place at 08:40 AM (06:40 GMT).

Melilla and Ceuta, Spain’s other small North African enclaves, have the European Union’s only land borders with Africa, making them a magnet for migrants.

Morocco deployed a “large” number of troops to try to repel the crowd from the border and “actively cooperated” with Spanish security forces, the delegation said in a separate statement.

Images on Spanish media showed exhausted migrants lying on the sidewalk in Melilla, some with bloodied hands and torn clothes.

In March of this year, Spain ended a year-long diplomatic crisis by backing Morocco’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara, building on its decades-long neutrality.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez then visited Rabat and the two governments praised a “new phase” in relations.

The spat began when Madrid allowed Brahim Ghali, leader of the Western Sahara’s Independence Front, to be treated for COVID-19 in a Spanish hospital in April 2021.

A month later, some 10,000 migrants flooded the Moroccan border into the enclave of Ceuta in Spain, while border guards looked the other way, in what was widely seen by Rabat as a punitive gesture.

Rabat calls for Western Sahara to be given autonomous status under Moroccan sovereignty, but the Polisario movement in Western Sahara wants a United Nations-controlled referendum on self-determination, as agreed in a 1991 ceasefire agreement.

In the days just before Morocco and Spain ended the diplomatic crisis, there were several attempted mass crossings of migrants in Melilla, including one involving 2,500 people, the largest ever attempt.

A restoration of Spanish ties with Morocco has led to a drop in arrivals. The number of migrants reaching the Canary Islands in April was 70 percent lower than in February, government figures show.

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