October 5, 2005

Spain cracks down on migrants storming outposts

By Emma Ross-Thomas

MELILLA, Spain (Reuters) - Spain said on Wednesday it
planned extraordinary measures to deter African migrants from
storming the borders of its North African outposts after 500
people tried to burst through.

Spain said it would invoke for the first time a 1992
agreement with Morocco allowing it to send back to Morocco
sub-Saharan Africans who had made it over the razor-wire fences
into its North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.

Under the agreement, Spain can ask Morocco to readmit the
migrants even though they are not Moroccan.

"We are working with Morocco and in the coming days,
possibly tomorrow -- exceptionally -- there may be a
repatriation of illegal immigrants," Deputy Prime Minister
Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega told reporters before leaving
Madrid for a visit to Ceuta and Melilla.

She was speaking after meeting the leaders of Ceuta and
Melilla in Madrid to discuss what to do about a series of mass
assaults by migrants on the Spanish outposts, which have
Europe's only land borders with Africa.

Many of the migrants are from countries with which Spain
does not have a repatriation agreement so they cannot be sent
home. Instead they are often taken to mainland Spain and issued
with an expulsion order that cannot be enforced.

Some 500 African migrants charged the fences around Melilla
early on Wednesday, and many of the 65 who got through were
injured, the government said.

Five died last week in a similar attempt at Ceuta. 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 assault
on a fence that is between three and six meters (10 to 20 ft)

Moroccan news agency MAP reported authorities in Nador,
close to Melilla, arrested 85 sub-Saharan Africans on
Wednesday, in addition to 134 arrested on Tuesday.

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

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 riot control rubber projectile at him.

Spanish police shoot billiard ball-sized rubber balls as a
riot control measure.

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.

Spain sent hundreds of troops last week to reinforce
security at the enclaves and plans a new fence around them.

Hundreds of migrants live 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.

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

(Additional reporting by Souhail Karam in Rabat, Adrian
Croft in Madrid)