400 African migrants see Spain dream dashed

Moroccan police drove back 400 African migrants who tried to rush across the country's border into Spain on Thursday, an official said.

400 African migrants see Spain dream dashed
African migrants point at the frontier with Melilla, a Spanish-governed territory bordering northern Morocco. Photo: Fadel Senna

It was the latest in a wave of desperate bids by Africans to reach Europe that have left hundreds dead and police and migrants injured.

The crowd of "sub-Saharan migrants" rushed at the crossing from northern Morocco into the Spanish territory of Ceuta at dawn and "were stopped by the Moroccan security forces," a Spanish government official in Ceuta told AFP.

"They tried to rush across the border, but none managed to enter Spain," and the situation at the border soon returned to normal, he said.

He could not say whether anyone was injured, but said it "was one of the biggest groups in recent years" to make the attempt.

On September 17, some 350 migrants tried to reach Ceuta by swimming to one of its beaches from a nearby Moroccan shore and about 91 made it into the territory.

That same day in Melilla, the other of Spain's two territories on the northern Moroccan coast, 300 migrants tore down part of the border fence and 100 made it through, with scores of people injured.

Spain and Morocco deployed boosted security at the borders after those attempts.

Thousands of migrants fleeing poverty and unrest in Africa try to enter Europe each year, by land into Ceuta and Melilla and by sea to Spain or Italy, often in flimsy vessels.

A shipwreck off the Italian island of Lampedusa on October 3 left at least 359 migrants dead, according to media.

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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.