Migration

Spain. Hundreds of migrants cross the border fence in Melilla | Migration News

The mass crossing is the first since Spain and Morocco resolved a diplomatic dispute over Western Sahara.

Hundreds of migrants have crossed the border separating the Spanish enclave of Melilla from Morocco, in the first mass crossing attempt since the two nations restored diplomatic ties in March.

“A large group of sub-Saharans [Africans] … passed through the access gate of the Barrio Chino border checkpoint and entered Melilla by jumping over the roof of the checkpoint,” the Spanish government delegation to the area said in a statement on Friday.

“All [are] men and apparently adults,” he added. The migrants arrived at the crossing point around 06:40 local time (0440 GMT) and the crossing took place at 08:40 (06:40 GMT).

Melilla and Ceuta, the other small Spanish enclaves in North Africa, have the European Union’s only land borders with Africa, making them a magnet for migrants.

Morocco deployed a “large” number of forces to try to push the crowds back from the border and “cooperated actively” with Spanish security forces, the delegation said earlier in a separate statement.

Footage released by Spanish media showed exhausted migrants lying on the sidewalk in Melilla, some with bloody hands and torn clothes.

In March this year, Spain ended a year-long diplomatic crisis by backing Morocco’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara, reversing its decades-long position of neutrality.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez then visited Rabat, and the two governments hailed a “new stage” in relations.

The row began when Madrid allowed Brahim Ghali, leader of the separatist Polisario Front for 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 as border guards looked away, in what was widely seen as a punitive gesture by Rabat.

Rabat is calling for Western Sahara to have autonomous status under Moroccan sovereignty, but the Sahrawi Polisario movement wants a UN-supervised referendum on self-determination, as agreed in a 1991 ceasefire agreement.

In the days leading up to the end of the diplomatic crisis between Morocco and Spain, several mass migrant crossing attempts took place in Melilla, including one involving 2,500 people, the largest such attempt on record.

A restoration of Spanish ties with Morocco has led to a drop in arrivals. The number of migrants who reached the Canary Islands in April was 70% lower than in February, according to government figures.