Over 150 migrants in Morocco climb fences to Spanish enclave

International

Newly arrived migrants walk into a temporary handling facility in Malaga, southern Spain, early Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019. Spain’s maritime rescue service says it has rescued 208 migrants from the Mediterranean Sea in 24 hours. The agency said Thursday the migrants were in three boats and were picked up in the so-called Alboran Sea, an area east of the Strait of Gibraltar and one of the most common routes for crossing to Europe from North Africa. (AP Photo/Sergio Rodrigo)

MADRID (AP) — At least 155 migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa successfully entered the Spanish enclave of Ceuta after climbing over fences or walking across a border post separating the territory from Morocco, authorities said Friday.

Seven of the migrants clung to the top of a 6-meter-tall (19.5 feet) fence for over two hours until law enforcement officers brought them down and handed them over to their Moroccan counterparts, said the Spanish central government’s delegation in Ceuta.

A larger group of around 250 attempted the breach simultaneously at a breakwater where the 8.2-kilometer (5-mile) double fence meets the sea. Most of them were from West Africa’s Guinea.

Morocco’s official news agency MAP quoted local authorities in the northern M’diq Fnideq prefecture as saying that 400 migrants staying in the country illegally had attempted to cross the fences and that 90 of them had been immediately arrested. Nine of them were slightly injured and transferred to a hospital.

A Ceuta delegation spokesman said that a dozen Civil Guard officers were treated for slight injuries after being hit with stones and sticks. One migrant with cuts from the barbed-wire topping the fences was taken to the local hospital and seven more were treated by the Red Cross.

Video footage showed the migrants erupting in jubilee and screaming “Boza! Boza!” — meaning “victory” in Western Africa’s Fulani language — as they walked or ran toward a temporary migrant processing center in Ceuta. The migrants typically stay there while they apply for asylum or wait for an opportunity to travel to peninsular Spain.

Friday’s was the first crossing attempt in Ceuta in over a year. In July, over 200 people tried to cross into Melilla, Spain’s other North African enclave, though most of them were stopped by the authorities.

The handling of security on both sides of the border has been criticized by human rights organizations. Spain’s Socialist government last year pledged to take down the controversial barbed wire and instead raise the fences to 10 meters (32 feet) and add more surveillance and technology to stop the breaches.

There is no official timing for the changes, said the Ceuta delegation’s spokesman, who wasn’t authorized to be identified in media reports.

Also on Friday, 14 men and a woman arrived in southern Spain on a navy ship after their group was kept at sea for weeks in one of the latest European spats over the migrants’ plight.

The Spanish Navy’s Audaz vessel returned to a port in Cadiz after picking up the migrants in Italy earlier this week.

They are part of a larger group of more than 150 rescued in the central Mediterranean Sea in early August by the Spanish aid group Open Arms but blocked from disembarking by Italian authorities.

Spain, Portugal, Germany, France and Luxembourg have agreed to accept them and an Italian prosecutor ordered their emergency evacuation after 19 days at sea amid worsening conditions.

Spain’s caretaker government said that the migrants have been granted a special entry authorization and will be informed of their right to apply for asylum at a temporary processing center.

Migration has become a touchy issue for Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez as he tries to remain prime minister following an inconclusive election in late April. A bitter parliamentary debate on Thursday showcased that tension, with Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo defending her handling of the Open Arms spat and the opposition claiming she was late and ineffective in providing help to the migrants at sea or prompting Europe to act.

Calvo told lawmakers that the European Union needs to agree on “a formula for safe arrivals at ports and co-responsibility” to share the burden of rescued migrants, a plea repeated in the past by Mediterranean countries.

Spain says it already rescues and takes in more migrants than any other nation in Europe. That’s despite a 42.5% drop in arrivals by mid-August compared to the same period last year — less than 14,600 so far this year compared with more than 25,300 in 2018.

In the same period, the number of boats making the crossing fell from 1,054 to 542.

Meanwhile, Morocco has broken up 100 human trafficking networks and stopped 57,000 crossings this year, according to government spokesman Mostapha El Khalfi.

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AP writer Amira El Masaiti in Rabat, Morocco, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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