At least 18 African migrants were killed when a large crowd tried to cross into the Spanish enclave of Melilla in northern Morocco, according to an update from Moroccan authorities.

Some 2,000 migrants approached Melilla in the early hours of Friday and more than 500 managed to enter a border control zone after cutting a fence with shears, the local delegation of the Spanish Government reported in a statement. Moroccan officials said Friday night that 13 migrants had died of injuries sustained in the raid, in addition to five who were confirmed dead earlier that day.

“Some fell from the top of the barrier” separating the two sides, a Moroccan official said, adding that 140 security personnel and 76 migrants were injured during the attempt to cross. The Spanish Civil Guard, which keeps watch on the other side of the fence, said it had no information about the tragedy and referred investigations to Morocco.

The border of the Spanish enclave and the neighboring Moroccan city of Nador were quiet early Saturday, with no police deployment, AFP journalists said. Morocco had deployed a “large” number of forces to try to repel the assault on the border, which “actively cooperated” with Spain’s security forces, it said earlier in a statement.

Images in the Spanish media showed exhausted migrants lying on the pavement in Melilla, some with bloody hands and torn clothing. Speaking in Brussels, the President of the Spanish Government, Pedro Sánchez, condemned the “violent assault”, which he blamed on “mafias that traffic in human beings”.

migrant magnet

Melilla and Ceuta, Spain’s other small North African enclave, have the European Union’s only land borders with Africa, making them a magnet for immigrants. On Thursday night, migrants and security forces had “confronted” on the Moroccan side of the border, Omar Naji of the Moroccan human rights group AMDH told AFP. Several of them were hospitalized in Nador, he added.

The Nador chapter of the AMDH called for the opening of “a serious investigation to determine the circumstances of this high cost” that shows that “the migration policies followed are deadly with borders and barriers that kill.” It was the first such massive incursion since Spain and Morocco repaired diplomatic relations last month. In March, Spain ended a year-long diplomatic crisis by endorsing Morocco’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara that backtracks on its decades-long stance of neutrality.

Sánchez then visited Rabat, and the two governments hailed a “new stage” in relations. The dispute began when Madrid allowed Brahim Ghali, leader of the Polisario Front in favor of the independence of Western Sahara, to be treated for covid-19 in a Spanish hospital in April 2021. A month later, some 10,000 migrants crossed the Moroccan border into the Spanish enclave of Ceuta. while border guards looked away, in what Rabat considered a punitive gesture.

Rabat calls for Western Sahara to have autonomous status under Moroccan sovereignty, but the Polisario Front wants a UN-supervised referendum on self-determination as agreed in a 1991 ceasefire agreement. In the days before Morocco and Spain mend their ties, there were several attempted mass crossings of migrants into Melilla, including one involving 2,500 people, the largest attempt of its kind on record. Almost 500 managed to cross.

‘Pressure Media’

Patching up relations with Morocco, the starting point for many immigrants, has meant a drop in arrivals, especially to Spain’s Atlantic Canary Islands. The number of immigrants who arrived in the Canary Islands in April was 70 percent lower than in February, according to government figures.

Sánchez warned earlier this month that “Spain will not tolerate any use of the tragedy of illegal immigration as a means of pressure.” Spain will seek to have “irregular migration” listed as one of the security threats on NATO’s southern flank when the alliance meets for a summit in Madrid on June 29-30.

Over the years, thousands of migrants have attempted to cross the 12-kilometre (7.5-mile) border between Melilla and Morocco, or the eight-kilometre Ceuta border, by climbing over barriers, swimming along the shoreline, or hiding in vehicles. The two territories are protected by fences fortified with barbed wire, video cameras and watchtowers. Migrants sometimes use hooks and sticks to try to scale the border fence and throw rocks at police.

Categorized in: