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IMMIGRATION

Migrants storm fence at Spain’s north African enclave Melilla

Close to 100 migrants tried to storm the border fence from Morocco into the Spanish enclave of Melilla on Saturday in a scramble that left one man seriously injured, authorities said.

Migrants storm fence at Spain's north African enclave Melilla
The migrants climbed the border fence at Melilla. Photo: Noborder Network/Flickr

Moroccan security forces managed to stop some of the migrants from reaching the fence that seals off Melilla — one of only two land borders between Africa and the European Union — but around 30 people still reached it and clambered onto the railings, they said. 

Two of these managed to get across into the Spanish territory, while one man was seriously injured when he fell from the metres-high fence near the Barrio Chino crossing, authorities in Melilla added in a statement.

The man was taken to hospital in Melilla with severe head injuries — along with three others who were slightly hurt as they too fell from the fence.

Other migrants were still clinging onto the railings in high winds, prompting firemen to lay out mattresses and other material at the base of the fence in an attempt to break any fall.

Authorities said the area around Barrio Chino is favoured by migrants and refugees trying to make it into Spain, as the “cluster of homes there allows them to crouch and hide, making it harder for security forces to intercept them.”

Melilla and Ceuta, another Spanish enclave nearly 400 kilometres (250 miles) away, have for some years been a flashpoint for African migrants trying to enter Spain, with authorities stepping up security by strengthening border barriers.

So far this year, according to Melilla authorities, there have been a dozen attempts to cross the border fence there, with more than 100 managing to enter the Spanish enclave.

But authorities said this pales in comparison with 2014, when more than 2,000 migrants and refugees managed to enter Melilla.

 

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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