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.
Those who succeeded in crossing went to a local migrant centre, where authorities were evaluating their circumstances.
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-metre 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 centred 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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