Spain struggles to halt migrants at two enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta: 80,000 Africans headed their way

Africans storm the fences at Melilla on Feb 17, 2014

About 80,000 African migrants are heading for Spain’s two enclaves along the Moroccan coast, leaving Spain struggling to contain the efforts that are coming in larger and increasingly coordinated surges in recent days.

The government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has faced intensifying criticism — within Spain and from the union — over its defense of the enclaves.

As Mr. Fernández Díaz noted on Wednesday, the first day of his two-day visit to the enclaves, “There are 40,000 people in Morocco who are waiting to cross illegally into Spain, and 40,000 more at the border between Mauritania and Morocco.”

The labor union representing Spanish police officers recently suggested that the enclaves faced an invasion. On Monday, officers prevented as many as 1,500 migrants from breaking through the fence around Ceuta. Mr. Fernández Díaz accused what he called human-trafficking mafias of engineering the latest surges.

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Border fence between Melilla and Morocco

While most migrants arrive on foot and try to rush or climb over the border fences, the Moroccan police said Thursday that they had stopped a four-wheel-drive vehicle carrying 17 people that was trying to force its way through a border checkpoint.

The enclaves have long been seen by migrants as a way to reach the promise of Europe and leave the despair of Africa without having to attempt a treacherous Mediterranean crossing, a route that claims the lives of scores of migrants each year.
Spain recently sent police reinforcements to the enclaves, and Mr. Fernández Díaz announced that a metal netting system would soon be added to reinforce the perimeters of the enclaves, along with three watchtowers equipped with heat-detecting cameras.

At a European Union ministerial meeting on Monday, he called on Spain’s partners in the bloc to provide 45 million euros, or $62 million, to help Spain reinforce its border security around the enclaves.

Madrid is also negotiating with Morocco on a change of law that would allow the authorities to turn back illegal migrants almost immediately, once they entered Spanish territory.

At the moment, when these migrants enter the territories, they cannot be legally expelled and must be processed the same way economic migrants or asylum seekers are on the mainland.

The Moroccan police have recently stepped up patrols of the hills around the enclaves, where migrants have been camping. The migrants have said they have suffered physical violence at the hands of the police.

The refugee center in Melilla is now home to about 1,300 migrants, almost triple its planned capacity. To help alleviate the problem, Spain this week transferred about 100 migrants, some of whom had been in the Melilla center for as long as three years, to the mainland.

Mr. Fernández Díaz stopped at the center on Thursday and was confronted by migrants demanding immediate transfer to the Spanish mainland, shouting: “Exit! Exit!”