Guy Hedgecoe, Irish Times, March 3, 2022
The arrival of more than 800 undocumented Africans in Melilla this week after the biggest mass attempt to reach the city for years has reinforced Spain’s status as a main entry point to Europe for migrants from the south.
On Wednesday morning an estimated 2,500 migrants tried to reach Melilla, a Spanish territory on the north African coast which borders Morocco, by scaling the six-metre border fences surrounding the city. A total of 491 managed to reach the other side, according to the Spanish government, in what was the largest such attempt to reach Melilla since 2014.
On Thursday morning, in a repeat incident, an estimated 350 migrants reached the city. The government said that a number of police officers were hurt in clashes with migrants on both occasions.
Photographs also showed migrants with injuries, and the Moroccan Association for Human Rights charity reported that 31 migrants were injured and taken to hospital in the Moroccan city of Nador.
Those who successfully scaled the fences are being housed in Melilla’s immigrant temporary stay centre, and will now go through legal checks to decide on whether they can remain in Spain.
In a post on social media Socialist prime minister Pedro Sánchez said he wished to “convey all the support and solidarity of the Spanish government in the face of the situation that [Melilla] has been confronting in recent days. My support also to the police officers who were injured.”
In May of 2021 over 10,000 migrants poured into Ceuta, the other Spanish city in north Africa, in the space of 36 hours as Morocco deliberately relaxed border controls due to a diplomatic dispute with Spain. However, in recent months the numbers of migrants trying to reach both cities has been relatively low.
Migrants have instead been heading in large numbers from north Africa to the Canary Islands. In January and February of this year 5,496 migrants reached the archipelago, 3,155 more than during the same period last year, according to the Spanish interior ministry.
The UN migration agency IOM reported that at least 65 people lost their lives making the extremely dangerous crossing in January alone, although the true figure is believed to be much higher.
The surge in the numbers of those making that crossing and this week’s arrivals in Melilla have raised concerns that Morocco has once again eased controls on its borders in an effort to exert political pressure on Spain. Last May’s migrant crisis was triggered by Rabat’s anger at Madrid allowing the Western Saharan leader Brahim Ghali to be treated in a Spanish hospital. Morocco has made clear that it wishes Spain, its closest European neighbour, to be more supportive to its claims on the disputed Western Sahara territory.
Santiago Abascal, whose far-right Vox party has frequently been accused of Islamophobia, drew a distinction between Ukrainian refugees and the migrants arriving from Morocco, whom he described as “young men of fighting age of Muslim origin who have assaulted the borders of Europe in an attempt to destabilise and colonise it”.