October 5, 2005

Hundreds of migrants charge Spain’s African border

By Emma Ross-Thomas

MELILLA, Spain (Reuters) - Some 500 African migrants
charged the razor-wire border at Spain's north African enclave
of Melilla on Wednesday, and many of the 65 who got through
were injured, the government said.

It was the latest in a string of assaults in recent days at
the crossings from Morocco to Melilla and Spain's other enclave
Ceuta, the rich European Union's only land border with Africa.

Five died last week in a similar attempt; news reports said
all were shot but it is still not clear by whom.

"You're not afraid, because in Africa you have nothing ...
you just keep thinking that you are entering Spain," Keta, a
24-year-old Malian who arrived on Wednesday, said. His hands
were covered in gashes and his jeans ripped and spotted with
blood from where he climbed over the border fence.

A police officer was also slightly injured in the early
Wednesday assault on a fence which is between three and six
metres (10 to 20 ft) high.

The new arrivals, their limbs and clothes shredded by the
wire and some without shoes, raced to the police station before
dawn, hoping to avoid being sent back by registering with

They were then transferred to a dusty and overcrowded Red
Cross center where some hugged friends who had reached Spain on
previous days.

Lasi, a 26-year-old also from Mali, who has spent seven
months traveling, had a large bruise on his torso where he said
police fired a rubber ball at him.

Compatriot Fagella Berte, was also hit by a police baton.

"When you're at the border, you see the guards, the rubber
balls, I didn't want to look at the balls, I just looked at the
ground, I was scared," he told Reuters at the Red Cross camp,
which has space for 500 but is lodging 1,600 people.


Dozens of young men limped on sprained ankles about the
sun-baked camp, fighting flies off their bandaged hands, some
too dazed to talk, others breaking into broad smiles as they
talked about Spain.

The city's military hospital was treating 39 of the
migrants for cuts and bruises, an official there said.

For some, Wednesday's attack on the border was the third or
fourth attempt. One Ivorian left home at the end of 2003, has
been caught by Moroccan authorities and dumped on the Algerian
border four times, but returned each time with a five-day trek.

The storming through the double fence was the second
attempt this week by a large group of migrants to cross into
Melilla. The tactic, which has become more popular recently, is
causing growing concern in Spain which sent hundreds of troops
last week to reinforce security.

The government plans a third fence around Ceuta and
Melilla, a spokesman said, without giving more details. El Pais
reported the new barrier would be like a "metal labyrinth" two
metres wide and 2.5 metres high.

The EU said on Tuesday it was ready to send experts to
Morocco to help solve the immigration crisis.

Hundreds of migrants, many of whom have spent months and
even years traveling across Africa, have been living in the
woods on the Moroccan side of the 10 km (six mile) border,
waiting to jump the fence.

The migrants -- mostly from west Africa -- build ladders
from the trees which they use to scale the double fences
guarded by Spanish police and troops and Moroccan authorities.

Spain does not have repatriation agreements with most
African countries so cannot send the migrants back. Once over
the fence, many get transferred to mainland Spain.

Spain has ruled Melilla and Ceuta since the late 15th
century. Morocco claims them both.