18 dead in huge rush across border into Spanish enclave Melilla

Over 2,000 migrants stormed the border between the Moroccan city of Nador and Melilla

<p>Migrants climb the fences separating the Spanish enclave of Melilla from Morocco in Melilla, Spain</p>

Migrants climb the fences separating the Spanish enclave of Melilla from Morocco in Melilla, Spain

Eighteen African migrants have died and dozens have been injured during an attempt to cross into the Spanish North African enclave of Melilla, Moroccan authorities have said, in what is the first such mass crossing incident since Spain and Morocco mended diplomatic relations.

More than 2,000 migrants stormed the border between the Moroccan city of Nador and Melilla on Friday, with 133 people successfully breaching the fence, according to officials.

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

“All of them [are] men and apparently adults,” it added.

The migrants arrived at the border at around 6am and the crossing took place after a skirmish at around 8.40am.

A spokesperson for the Spanish government’s office in Melilla said the crowd was stopped by Spanish civil guard police and Moroccan forces on either side of the border fence. This led to clashes with security forces.

Morocco’s interior ministry initially said five migrants had died, some after falling from the fence surrounding Melilla and others in a crush, and that 76 migrants were injured.

It later said another 13 had died in hospital from the injuries sustained.

The Moroccan Human Rights Association reported 27 dead but the figure could not immediately be confirmed.

Migrants run across Spanish soil in Melilla after crossing the border checkpoint

Some 140 members of the Moroccan security forces were also injured, it added, five seriously. Four police vehicles were damaged by rocks allegedly thrown by migrants.

Those who succesfully made it to the other side of the border were taken to a local migrant centre, where authorities were evaluating their circumstances. Images on Spanish media showed exhausted refugees and migrants on pavement in Melilla, some with bloodied hands and torn clothes.

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

Migrants, most of who flee due to poverty and violence in their local areas, often make such mass attempts to cross through the border into the Spanish territories in North Africa.

Earlier in March, more than 3,500 people tried to scale the six-metre barrier that surrounds Melilla, with nearly 1,000 making it across, according to Spanish authorities.

Additional reporting by agencies

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