Seventy more migrants cross border fence into Spain’s Melilla enclave

Seventy migrants made it over a Moroccan border fence to reach the Spanish enclave of Melilla on Friday, authorities said, after record numbers reached Spain's other North African territory earlier this week

Seventy more migrants cross border fence into Spain's Melilla enclave
Melilla la Vieja, or "old Melilla", the fortress to the north of the African Spanish enclave. Photo: Jorge Guerrero/AFP

More than 8,000 migrants swam or used small inflatable boats to cross into Spain’s Ceuta territory from Monday as the Moroccan border forces looked the other way, taking Spanish authorities by surprise and raising tensions between Madrid and Rabat.

Madrid has since sent more than 6,000 of those migrants back and stopped new entries into Ceuta. But there have also been a smaller number getting into Melilla, Spain’s other coastal enclave some 400 kilometres (250 miles) to the east.

“During the night, 30 people entered our city, all men of legal age and of Moroccan origin,” Melilla authorities said in a statement, adding that there
were six attempts overnight to get over the border fence, which is several metres high.

A second statement Friday afternoon added that 40 more people, “all North Africans”, had later managed to reach Melilla after forcing their way through a border fence.

In a previous attempt at dawn on Tuesday, 86 migrants from a group of more than 300 managed to get over the fence. Other attempts have been made throughout the week.


In Ceuta on Friday, one young migrant — part of the wave who entered the territory earlier in the week — tried to commit suicide by hanging himself
with a metallic cable on the seaside boardwalk, police said. Police revived him after rushing to the scene and he was transferred to hospital.

The migrant influx comes as tensions simmer between Spain and Morocco over Madrid’s decision to provide medical treatment for tolhe ailing leader of the Western Sahara independence movement, who has Covid-19.

Analysts say Morocco had sought to put diplomatic pressure on Spain to recognise its sovereignty over Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony mainly under Moroccan control.

After accusing Morocco of “aggression” and “blackmail”, Spain sought to lower the tone on Friday. Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said “there was a disagreement, but between two countries that know and respect each other”.

We must ensure that “this disagreement is as short as possible,” he told Spanish radio Cope.

Ceuta and Melilla have the European Union’s only land borders with Africa and have long been a magnet for migrants seeking a better life in Europe. 

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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.