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IMMIGRATION

More than 350 migrants successfully storm Spain border fence

More than 350 migrants stormed the border between Morocco and Spain at Ceuta on Monday, officials said, days after one of the largest rush of arrivals over the frontier in more than a decade.

More than 350 migrants successfully storm Spain border fence
Image from February 17th 2017 of migrants celebrating outside the Center for Temporary Stay of Immigrants (CETI) after forcing their way through a fence between Morocco and Ceuta.

The young migrants forced their way through the high border fence into the Spanish North African territory, ecstatic to have finally crossed into a European Union state.

Some kissed the ground and shouted “Thank you lord” and “Viva Espana”, although several had bloodied hands and feet as well as torn clothes after making it through the barrier.

Ceuta and Melilla, also a Spanish territory in North Africa, have the EU's only land borders with Africa, so are entry points for migrants who either climb the border fence, swim along the coast or hide in vehicles.

“356 managed to get in out of a total of around 700” who attempted entry, a spokesman for the local authority said. “They entered after breaking access gates with shears and hammers.”

Their arrival came just days after nearly 500 migrants made it over the fence on Friday, one of the biggest entries since the border barrier was reinforced in 2005.

It also comes amid a dispute between Morocco and the EU over the interpretation of a free trade farm and fishing deal.

In a late 2016 ruling, an EU court said the deal did not apply to the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony controlled by Rabat where the Polisario Front is fighting for independence.

The court said this was because the status of the disputed territory remained unclear according to the international community.

The 28-nation bloc did not recognise it as part of Morocco.

The ruling opened the way for the Polisario Front and its supporters to contest trade in products from the Western Sahara between Morocco and the 28 EU states.

The decision angered Morocco, which on February 7 suggested it could lead to “a new flow of migration” towards Europe and place the continent “at risk”.

The last such massive attempt took place on New Year's Day when more than 1,000 migrants tried to jump a high double fence between Morocco and Ceuta in a violent assault that saw one officer lose an eye.

The enclave has been ringed by a double wire fence eight kilometres long. The six-metre high fence also has rolls of barbed wire.The young migrants climbed over the high border fence into the Spanish North African territory, ecstatic to have finally crossed into a European Union state.

READ ALSO: Trump's wall: Spain shows why US president is heading for trouble

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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