18 Migrants Die In Stampede To Enter Melilla

RABAT, Morocco (AP) — Eighteen Africans trying to cross into Spain were killed Friday and dozens of migrants and police were injured in what Moroccan authorities called a “stampede” of people jumping the border fence between Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Morocco. Melilla.

A total of 133 migrants crossed the border between Nador, in Morocco, and Melilla, the first mass crossing since Spain and Morocco restored diplomatic relations last month. A spokesman for the Spanish government delegation in Melilla said some 2,000 people tried to cross but were stopped by Spanish Guardia Civil officers and Moroccan police on both sides of the border fence.

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The Moroccan Interior Ministry said in a statement that the deaths occurred when people tried to jump the iron fence. He said five migrants were killed and 76 injured. Also 140 Moroccan security agents reported injuries.

Thirteen of the injured migrants later died in hospital, bringing the death toll to 18, according to local authorities quoted by the official Moroccan news agency MAP. The Moroccan Association for Human Rights reported 27 deaths but the figure could not be confirmed at this time.

Spanish authorities said 49 civil guards suffered minor injuries. Some migrants threw stones that damaged four police vehicles.

Those who managed to cross went to a migrant center, where the authorities were evaluating their cases.

People fleeing poverty and violence sometimes participate in mass attempts to enter Melilla and another Spanish enclave in North Africa, Ceuta, as a springboard to continental Europe.

Spain often entrusts Moroccan authorities with the task of keeping migrants away from the border.

Over two days in early March, more than 3,500 people tried to scale the 6-meter (20-foot) high perimeter fence surrounding Melilla and almost 1,000 managed to jump it, according to Spanish authorities.

Friday’s crossings were the first since relations between the two countries improved in March after a year of tensions centered on Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony that Morocco annexed in 1976.

Morocco eased its controls around Ceuta last year, allowing thousands of migrants to arrive in Spanish territory. The move was seen as retaliation for Madrid’s decision to allow the leader of the Polisario Front, the Western Saharan independence movement, to receive COVID-19 treatment at a Spanish hospital.

Tensions between the two nations began to ease earlier this year after Spain backed Morocco’s plan to grant greater autonomy to the region, where activists are seeking full independence.

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Ciarán Giles reported from Madrid.

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