Morocco: 5 migrants dead in stampede in bid to enter Melilla

Moroccan authorities say five migrants were killed and scores of migrants and police officers were injured in a “stampede” of people trying to cross into the Spanish North African enclave of Melilla on Friday

Moroccan authorities said that five migrants were killed and scores of migrants and police officers were injured in a “stampede” of people trying to cross into the Spanish North African enclave of Melilla on Friday.

About 130 migrants breached the border between Morocco and Melilla on Friday, the first such incursion since Spain and Morocco mended diplomatic relations last month. A spokesperson for the Spanish government’s office in Melilla said about 2,000 people attempted to enter the North African city.

Morocco’s Interior Ministry said in a statement that the casualties occurred when people tried to climb the iron fence. It said five migrants were killed and 76 injured, and 140 Moroccan security officers were injured.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

MADRID (AP) — Some 130 migrants breached the border between Morocco and the Spanish city of Melilla on Friday, the first such incursion since Spain and Morocco mended diplomatic relations last month.

A spokesperson for the Spanish government's office in Melilla said about 2,000 people attempted to enter the North African city but many were stopped by Spanish Civil Guard police and Moroccan forces on the other side of a border fence.

Those who succeeded in crossing went to a local migrant center, where authorities were evaluating their circumstances.

Several migrants and police officers were slightly injured, said the spokesperson, who could not be identified by name in keeping with government rules.

People fleeing poverty and violence sometimes make mass attempts to reach Melilla and the other Spanish territory on the North African coast, Ceuta, as a springboard to continental Europe.

Spain normally relies on Morocco to keep migrants away from the border.

Over two days at the beginning of March, more than 3,500 people tried to scale the 6-meter (20-foot) barrier that surrounds Melilla and nearly 1,000 made it across, according to Spanish authorities.

Friday's crossings were the first attempt since relations between Spain and Morocco improved in March after a year-long dispute centered on the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony annexed by Morocco in 1976.

Morocco loosened its controls around Ceuta last year, allowing thousands of migrants to cross into Spain. The move was viewed as retaliation for Spain’s decision to allow the leader of Western Sahara’s pro-independence movement to be treated for COVID-19 at a Spanish hospital.

Tensions between the two countries began to thaw earlier this year after Spain backed Morocco’s plan to grant more autonomy to Western Sahara, where activists are seeking full independence.

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