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More Than 200 Migrants Reach Europe By Crossing Bridge Into Spanish Enclave

Two nearly 20-foot fences, pictured in August 2017, separate Melilla, Spain, (right) from Morocco (left). Melilla, one of two Spanish enclaves located in Africa, has been regarded as a backdoor to Europe for African migrants.
The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images
Two nearly 20-foot fences, pictured in August 2017, separate Melilla, Spain, (right) from Morocco (left). Melilla, one of two Spanish enclaves located in Africa, has been regarded as a backdoor to Europe for African migrants.

More than 200 African migrants managed to scale the fence surrounding the Spanish enclave Melilla on Sunday, successfully reaching European Union soil.

Melilla is a coastal city, surrounded by the Mediterranean on one side and Morocco on the other three sides. The enclave — along with the similar city of Ceuta — has been a site of migrant crossings for years, some successful and many more attempted.

Individuals and small groups regularly attempt to scale the massive fences surrounding the enclaves — or, as Lauren Frayer reported for NPR in 2015, to sneak through checkpoints in cars or trucks or swim around the fences, which jut out into the Mediterranean Sea.

Mass crossings, with hundreds of migrants breaching a wall at one time, happen periodically.

In the most recent crossing, 209 migrants made it onto Spanish soil, NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports. "Four of the migrants who reached Spain received treatment for injuries sustained during the crossing," she says.

One Spanish police officer was wounded — a migrant attacked the officer with a hook used to climb the fence, The Local reports, and injured the police officer's earlobe.

"In order to get across, migrants often use hooks and shoes studded with nails," The Local notes.

Authorities called the breach of the fence a "violent crossing," Reuters reports.

In 2015, Lauren Frayer described migration into Ceuta, where a similar fence divides Moroccan and Spanish land:

"In February 2014, at least 15 Africans died trying to swim around the same fence, when border guards fired rubber bullets at them in the water. Sixteen Spanish troops have been indicted in that incident.

" 'That was a monumental mistake, but we work under so much pressure,' says Juan Antonio Delgado, a Civil Guard spokesman. 'You've got 500 desperate Africans face to face with 50 of us guards. It's very dramatic. They're absolutely determined to get across.'

"Moroccans who reach Ceuta illegally are automatically deported, because of a bilateral treaty between Spain and their country. But many African countries have no such treaties. And many migrants try not to disclose their origin, so Spanish officials can't deport them."

And in 2016, NPR's Leila Fadel visited would-be African migrants camped out in Nador, Morocco, just south of Melilla:

"We reach a clearing where makeshift tents of blankets and garbage bags are propped up on the hills. Clothes hang in trees to dry. Dozens of people are sitting around. A woman washes dishes in a small plastic bowl. Four men huddle around a meager fire as one person fries up eggs for the group to share.

" 'We are suffering. We are suffering like this. We are suffering,' [says] Abison Johnson, from Cameroon. ... 'I come from a poor family, very poor background. And I thought if I go out to help my family — but to my great surprise, life became worse and worse to me.'

"He wants to go to Europe. But that would mean getting through a series of Moroccan and Spanish walls meant to keep people out of the Spanish enclave of Melilla. They're reinforced with floodlights, electronic surveillance sensors and barbed wire. .... He lifts his shirt to show me a long, dark scar on his right side where the barbed wire sliced him open. ...

"Johnson has jumped the wire, as they call it here, onto the Spanish side several times. Each time, the Spanish guards send him back. And sometimes, he says, the Moroccan border guards beat the returnees. Crossing now is almost impossible."

You can hear her full report here.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.
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