1,000 migrants storm border fence at Spanish enclave of Ceuta

Immigrants attempting to scale a barbed-wire fence that juts into the sea. [Reuters]

More than 1,000 migrants tried to jump a high double fence between Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Ceuta yesterday (1 January) in a violent assault that saw one officer lose an eye, local authorities said.

A group of 1,100 people from sub-Saharan Africa trying to reach Europe stormed the border fence just after 4 am (0300 GMT) on New Year’s Day in an “extremely violent and organised” way, said the central government’s representative office in Ceuta.

None however managed to get through, bar two who were badly injured and taken to hospital in Ceuta, the office said in a statement. A similar assault on 9 December saw more than 400 migrants enter the tiny enclave.

They tried “to force open some of the doors in the external fence, using iron bars, wire cutters and large stones with which they assaulted Moroccan forces and (Spanish) Guardia Civil (police) agents”, it added.

Five Spanish policemen and 50 members of the Moroccan forces were injured, including one who lost an eye, it said.

A Moroccan interior ministry statement said that of those members of the security forces who were hurt, 10 were in a serious condition.

Ceuta and Melilla, another Spanish territory in North Africa, have the European Union’s only land borders with Africa.

They are one of the entry points for African migrants seeking a better life in Europe, who get there by either climbing over the border fence, swimming along the coast or hiding in vehicles.

On Monday, a French national was arrested for trying to board a ferry out of Ceuta with a camper van where 12 Algerians were found hiding, “car sick and sweating”, police said.

According to local authorities, of the 1,100 migrants who stormed the border Sunday, just over 100 managed to climb up the external fence and stayed on top for hours.

Footage shot by the local Faro TV shows one man perched at the top of the six-metre (20-foot) high fence, sitting uncomfortably near rolls of barbed wire, his head hanging down onto his chest.

Eventually as darkness turns to light, he slowly climbs down to a space between both fences and lies down as a Spanish policeman fetches him a bottle of water before taking him to an entry back into Morocco.

Separately, coastguards said they had rescued 52 people who were packed onto a small boat at sea south of Malaga on Spain’s southern coast.

“From now on those making such attempts will be presented before the competent judicial authorities who will decree their expulsion from the kingdom (of Morocco) or heavier penalties, according the gravity of the act,” the ministry said in a statement.

Spain has drawn criticism from human rights groups for allowing some migrants to be immediately turned back to Morocco in such incidents. They argue that skipping the lengthier deportation procedures deprives people of the opportunity to claim asylum.

However, Libya has become a more common departure point for African migrants, most of whom come from sub-Saharan countries and attempt the crossing to Italy by boat.

2016 was the deadliest year ever for migrants in the Mediterranean, with almost 5,000 deaths, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

The uncontrolled arrival of some 1.4 million refugees and migrants in the past two years, many fleeing conflicts such as Syria’s civil war, has triggered bitter EU infighting over how to handle them.

Spain has agreed to take in more than 17,000 by late 2017.

Italy, Greece face off against easterners in EU migration feud

The European Union’s tug of war over how to share out the burden of caring for asylum-seekers is not over, Slovakia’s interior minister said on Friday (9 December) after six months of trying unsuccessfully to bridge differences between member states.

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