18 migrants die in mass attempt to enter Spain's Melilla
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Around 2,000 migrants approached Melilla at dawn Friday and more than 500 managed to enter a border control area after cutting a fence with shears, the Spanish government's local delegation said in a statement.
Moroccan officials said late Friday that 13 migrants had died of injuries sustained in the incursion, in addition to five who were confirmed dead earlier in the day.
The Spanish Civil Guard, which monitors the other side of the fence, said it had no information on the tragedy and referred enquiries to Morocco.
The border of the Spanish enclave and the neighbouring Moroccan city of Nador were calm early Saturday, without police deployment, AFP journalists said.
Morocco had deployed a "large" number of forces to try to repel the assault on the border, who "cooperated actively" with Spain's security forces, it said earlier in a statement.
Speaking in Brussels, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez condemned the "violent assault", which he blamed on "mafias who traffic in human beings".
- Migrant magnet -
On Thursday night migrants and security forces had "clashed" on the Moroccan side of the border, Omar Naji of Moroccan rights group AMDH told AFP.
Several of them were hospitalised in Nador, he added.
The AMDH's Nador chapter called for the opening of "a serious investigation to determine the circumstances of this very heavy toll" which shows that "the migration policies followed are deadly with borders and barriers that kill".
In March, Spain ended a year-long diplomatic crisis by backing Morocco's autonomy plan for Western Sahara going back on its decades-long stance of neutrality.
Sanchez then visited Rabat, and the two governments hailed a "new stage" in relations.
The row began when Madrid allowed Brahim Ghali, leader of Western Sahara's pro-independence Polisario Front, to be treated for Covid-19 in a Spanish hospital in April 2021.
Rabat calls for the Western Sahara to have an autonomous status under Moroccan sovereignty but the Polisario Front wants a UN-supervised referendum on self-determination as agreed in a 1991 ceasefire agreement.
In the days just before Morocco and Spain patched up their ties, there were several attempted mass crossings of migrants into Melilla, including one involving 2,500 people, the largest such attempt on record. Nearly 500 made it across.
- 'Means of pressure' -
The number of migrants who reached the Canary Islands in April was 70 percent lower than in February, government figures show.
Sanchez earlier this month warned that "Spain will not tolerate any use of the tragedy of illegal immigration as a means of pressure".
Spain will seek to have "irregular migration" listed as one of the security threats on the NATO's southern flank when the alliance gathers for a summit in Madrid on June 29-30.
Over the years, thousands of migrants have attempted to cross the 12-kilometre (7.5-mile) border between Melilla and Morocco, or Ceuta's eight-kilometre border, by climbing the barriers, swimming along the coast or hiding in vehicles.
The two territories are protected by fences fortified with barbed wire, video cameras and watchtowers.
Migrants sometimes use hooks and sticks to try to climb the border fence, and throw stones at police.