MELILLA, Spain—Climbing ladders fashioned from tree branches, hundreds of Africans from the continent’s poorest countries threw themselves over razor-wire fences Thursday to gain a foothold in Europe—the latest human avalanche seeking entry into a pair of barren Spanish enclaves in Morocco.
Five people were killed trying to enter the city of Ceuta, two reportedly shot from the Moroccan side. Spain called out army troops with automatic weapons to patrol the frontier there and in Melilla, another centuries-old Spanish city on the northern coast of the only African country with land bordering a member of the European Union.
Spain is used to heartbreaking stories of destitute Africans risking their lives to reach Europe’s southern gateway in hopes of starting a new life.
Dangerously overcrowded boats—often with women who are pregnant or carrying infants—cross the Strait of Gibraltar from Morocco to reach the Spanish mainland. Youths cling to the underside of trucks being ferried across the treacherous waterway. Men pedal across in bicycle-like vessels.
And while midnight dashes up and over the fences outside Melilla and Ceuta are nothing new, the volume of the human waves doing so rose dramatically this summer and particularly this week.
On Tuesday alone, two separate groups of 500 rushed the frontier at Melilla, and Spain says about 300 made it in. Last year there were seven such attempts, but so far this year the number is up to around 25, including nine since the end of August.
“In the last few days we have had a different phenomenon, an avalanche of immigrants not seen before that surely has circumstantial causes that we will combat,” Zapatero said Thursday.
At least three Africans died in recent crossings, but Thursday’s deaths were the first to include reports of gunfire.
The opposition Popular Party says Zapatero’s Socialist government is in part to blame for the influx, arguing that an amnesty it pushed through Parliament this year for thousands of undocumented foreigners is luring many other Africans in the mistaken belief they too can get papers.
Melilla’s president, Juan Jose Imbroda, who is a member of the Popular Party, said Moroccan authorities are turning a blind eye to the masses trying to get into Spain.
“In Tuesday’s avalanche there were 600 people using 300 ladders,” he said. “When there are 600 people coming, you can see them.”
Aborah said his goal was simply to reach Spain and that when he crossed over he surrendered to police, knowing they could not deport him and at least he would get food and shelter.
“I know if I come to Spain, my problem is solved,” he said.