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IMMIGRATION

Restive Morocco-Spain border hit by new car ramming incident

A car with five migrants hidden inside rammed its way through a border post between Morocco and the Spanish territory of Melilla on Saturday, the second such incident in two days at the restive frontier.

Restive Morocco-Spain border hit by new car ramming incident
Photo: AFP/Delegacion De Gobierno De Melilla

This method to get migrants into the Spanish territory had not been used in years, but it happened once in March, and again on Friday and Saturday.

Melilla and its sister city Ceuta, some 400 kilometres (250 miles) northwest along the Moroccan coast, are the only two land borders between Africa and the European Union and migrants wanting to get to Europe often resort to desperate measures to get in.

The central government's representative office in Melilla said in a statement that the car came up to the border post normally, queueing with other vehicles.

“When it got near the first police control, it abruptly changed direction, took a lane adjacent to the one it was in and dangerously evaded police controls at high speed,” it said.

The car damaged one of the border post's barriers and forced “officers to abandon their posts so as not (to) be run over,” it added.

Once inside Melilla, the Moroccan driver abandoned the car but was soon detained by police.

Inside the vehicle, they found five migrants — two in the boot, two others under a false bottom in the rear seats and another in the dashboard.

Three of them were minors.

The incident comes just a day after a another car forced its way through the Melilla border post with nine migrants on board.

Surveillance footage tweeted by Spain's interior minister showed a police officer rushing to close large gates at the border post but being flung to the floor as the car forced the barriers open at high speed.

The border between Morocco and Melilla and Ceuta is regularly hit by disturbances as migrants try to get through by hiding in vehicles or climbing over high fences at the frontier.

Spain announced in March that it would nearly double the capacity of its migrant reception centres in the two territories to 8,500 places from 4,500.

Migrants and refugees also regularly take to rickety boats to cross the Mediterranean between north Africa and Spain.

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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