70 migrants reach Spain's Melilla enclave from Morocco

A group of people try to cross the border fence separating Morocco from Spain's Ceuta territory on May 19, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MADRID (AFP) - Seventy migrants made it over a Moroccan border fence to reach the Spanish enclave of Melilla on Friday (May 21), authorities said, after record numbers reached Spain's other North African territory earlier this week.

More than 8,000 migrants swam or used small inflatable boats to cross into Spain's Ceuta territory from Monday as the Moroccan border forces looked the other way, taking Spanish authorities by surprise and raising tensions between Madrid and Rabat.

Madrid has since sent more than 6,000 of those migrants back and stopped new entries into Ceuta. But there have also been a smaller number getting into Melilla, Spain's other coastal enclave some 400km to the east.

"During the night, 30 people entered our city, all men of legal age and of Moroccan origin," Melilla authorities said in a statement, adding that there were six attempts overnight to get over the border fence, which is several metres high.

A second statement on Friday afternoon added that 40 more people, "all North Africans", had later managed to reach Melilla after forcing their way through a border fence.

In a previous attempt at dawn on Tuesday, 86 migrants from a group of more than 300 managed to get over the fence. Other attempts have been made throughout the week.

In Ceuta on Friday, one young migrant - part of the wave who entered the territory earlier in the week - tried to commit suicide by hanging himself with a metallic cable on the seaside boardwalk, police said.

Police revived him after rushing to the scene and he was transferred to hospital.

The migrant influx comes as tensions simmer between Spain and Morocco over Madrid's decision to provide medical treatment for the ailing leader of the Western Sahara independence movement, who has Covid-19.

Analysts say Morocco had sought to put diplomatic pressure on Spain to recognise its sovereignty over Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony mainly under Moroccan control.

After accusing Morocco of "aggression" and "blackmail", Spain sought to lower the tone on Friday.

Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said "there was a disagreement, but between two countries that know and respect each other".

We must ensure that "this disagreement is as short as possible," he told Spanish radio Cope.

Ceuta and Melilla have the European Union's only land borders with Africa and have long been a magnet for migrants seeking a better life in Europe.

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