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IMMIGRATION

Migrants storm Spain-Morocco border

Scores of migrants stormed a border fence from Morocco into Spanish territory, prompting clashes with guards that left nine people injured, authorities said Friday.

Migrants storm Spain-Morocco border
The Melilla border fence. Photo: Wikimedia

The charge on the six-metre (20-foot) fence late Thursday was the latest in a series of attempts by migrants desperate to reach European soil via Melilla, a Spanish enclave bordering Morocco on the Mediterranean coast.

The local Spanish government delegation said in a statement that between 150 and 200 migrants used ladders to scale the fence and about 70 succeeded in entering Melilla.

Medics treated six immigrants and a policeman for light injuries as well as two civil guards who were bitten, it said.

A local opposition politician, Mustafa Aberchan, said he saw police using violence against migrants and sheltered around 30 of them in his garage.

The head of the government delegation Abdelmalik El Barkani defended the police in the statement, saying they were there "to ensure the defence of our borders".

Hundreds of African migrants have tried to enter the territory over recent months by storming the fence or approaching by boat, according to Spanish authorities.

On April 21st, six Spanish police officers were injured when they tried to stop 15 migrants armed with sticks and knives from illegally entering Melilla by boat.

On March 11th, some 25 people were injured in a storming of the fence. A Moroccan human rights group said that one of them, a Cameroonian man of 30, died of his injuries in Morocco.

Melilla, home to around 80,000 people, has one of the European Union's two land borders with Africa, along with the other Spanish enclave of Ceuta to the west.

Spanish authorities have reported a surge in attempts to scale the fence over recent months while hundreds camp in the wild nearby on the Moroccan side.

Medical aid group Doctors Without Borders has announced it is closing its projects in Morocco in protest at the treatment of migrants who are brought to Morocco by traffickers and allegedly abused by Spanish and Moroccan police.

El Barkani described the flood of desperate migrants as a "tremendous human tragedy" and said he would reinforce policing at the border.

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POLITICS

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

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