More than 230 migrants crossed the Moroccan border into the enclave of Melilla in Spain before dawn on Thursday, in one of the largest influxes to this small North African territory in recent years.
The incident took place two months after an unprecedented 10,000 people poured into the other Spanish enclave of Ceuta, exacerbating a diplomatic crisis between Madrid and Rabat.
In a statement, the Spanish government delegation in Melilla said “a huge influx” of more than 300 migrants had attempted to cross the border at 6:50 am, of which 238 successfully climbed the fence, all men.
It said they used “hooks” to climb the border, which they succeeded, despite the border fence being fitted with “anti-burglary” measures, without specifying what they were.
Three Civil Guard police officers suffered “minor injuries” from the hooks used by those crossing the fence, it said.
The migrants were taken to a shelter where they will be quarantined in accordance with anti-Covid security procedures.
Since mid-May, hundreds of migrants have tried to enter Melilla through the Moroccan border fence, nearly 300 of whom have crossed.
Thursday’s incident increased that number to more than 500 in just over two months.
Where Europe meets Africa
Spain’s two small enclaves, Ceuta and Melilla, have Europe’s only land border with Africa, making them a magnet for migrants desperate to escape abject poverty and hunger.
Over the years, thousands of migrants have tried to cross the 12-kilometer-long border between Melilla and Morocco, or the eight-kilometer-long border of Ceuta, by climbing fences, swimming along the coast or hiding in vehicles.
The two areas are protected by barbed wire fences, video cameras and watchtowers.
According to Morocco, the two cities have long been a flashpoint in diplomatic relations between Rabat and Madrid, insisting that both are an integral part of Spain.
In mid-May, Spain was taken by surprise when more than 10,000 people swam or used small inflatable boats to cross Ceuta territory as Moroccan border forces looked the other way.
Although most were quickly returned, there were still more than 2,000 in the enclave, including 1,185 unaccompanied minors, a spokesman for the government delegation in Ceuta told AFP on Thursday.
The influx came amid a diplomatic crisis between Madrid and Rabat over Western Sahara, which has long pushed for independence from Morocco.
Madrid had angered Morocco by letting the leader of the Western Saharan independence movement go to Spain for hospital treatment for a serious case of Covid-19, sparking a nerve-racking standoff between the two countries.
The unprecedented border crossing was generally seen by Rabat as a punitive measure.
Although the leader of the Polisario Front, Brahim Ghali, left Spain on June 2, diplomatic relations have remained tense.