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IMMIGRATION

Spain returns migrants to Morocco after storming of Melilla enclave

Spain sent 55 migrants back to Morocco on Monday a day after they forced their way into the Spanish territory of Melilla during an assault on the border in which two migrants died and 19 were injured.

Spain returns migrants to Morocco after storming of Melilla enclave

A total of 208 migrants entered Melilla on Sunday after climbing over two barbed wire fences which separate the tiny territory from northern Morocco. 

READ MORE: At least one dead as 200 migrants reach Spain's Melilla enclave

Madrid has “readmitted 55 people” who entered Melilla to Morocco, the Spanish central government's representative in the territory said in a statement.

Another 140 migrants have requested asylum, 10 are recovering from their injuries and three are minors, it said.   

Spain has become the main entry point for migrants and asylum-seekers looking for a better life in Europe as other EU countries tighten up controls at their borders. A smuggling route through Libya to Italy has also been complicated by conflict and violence there.

One man who took part in the mass storming of the border died shortly after he entered Melilla of a suspected heart attack.   

“The preliminary results of the autopsy indicate there is no external injury which caused his death,” the statement said.   

Another migrant died on the Moroccan side of the border in the attempt to cross over to Melilla.

Moroccan authorities arrested 141 people as they tried to cross.   

Several Spanish Catholic associations which aid migrants issued a joint statement condemning the quick expulsion of the migrants from Melilla.   

“Speed is not always a symptom of efficiency when what is at stake is people's lives and future,” it said.

Melilla, together with a second Spanish enclave, Ceuta, have the European Union's only land borders with Africa.   

Over 47,000 migrants have made it north to Spain since the start of the year, including about 5,000 by land, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

An increasing number of Moroccans are attempting to reach Europe, either by taking the perilous sea route or via the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, which border Morocco.

Morocco, which many Africans can visit without visas, has become a major gateway for sub-Saharan migrants into Europe.   

Moroccan authorities say they have stopped some 54,000 attempts by migrants to cross into Spain this year.

READ ALSO:  Spain and Morocco in talks to repatriate migrant minors 

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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