Ceuta and Melilla buckle under mass attempt to enter Spain

Hundreds of immigrants simultaneously overwhelm security forces on land and by sea in two exclaves

Police grappling with immigrants on Ceuta's beach after a mass attempt to swim onto Spanish soil.
Police grappling with immigrants on Ceuta's beach after a mass attempt to swim onto Spanish soil. reduan / efe

Hundreds of would-be immigrants staged a mass attempt to gain entry to Melilla and Ceuta early on Tuesday, leading Moroccan and Spanish border security forces to deploy scores of agents and a helicopter to bring the situation under control.

The Civil Guard said that between 6.30am and 9am a concerted effort was made to scale the Melilla fence between the exclave’s Chinatown area and the airport. Officers at the scene said the forced attempt to reach Spanish soil was “violent,” with objects thrown at police. Six civil guards and an immigrant sustained light injuries in the confrontation, during which more than 100 sub-Saharans managed to enter Melilla. Once over the fence, they scattered into the city, with some being gradually rounded up during Tuesday and handed over to the police before being transferred to the local CETI temporary internment center. The camp has room for 512 people but already houses more than 700.

Simultaneously, around 350 people opted to swim from Morocco territory to the Tarajal beach in Ceuta, where local security forces were on hand to repel them, although 91 eventually made it through. The Red Cross set up an emergency aid station to tend to the “numerous” immigrants that reached the beach with symptoms of hypothermia. “Moroccan security forces tried to disperse the crowd but many made it through,” said the government delegate in Ceuta, Francisco Antonio González, who added that extending the breakwater on the coast would now be considered because it is “too easy” to reach the shore in good weather.

Tuesday’s was the first mass assault on Spain’s North African border defenses since September 2, when some 80 people managed to enter Ceuta.

Tragedy at sea

On Monday, Spain’s coast guard searched without success for 12 people who went missing in the Strait of Gibraltar when their craft capsized. The boat was reportedly carrying 42 people of Maghrebi and sub-Saharan origin.

On one of the busiest days of the year for rescue teams, a further 161 would-be immigrants were brought ashore at in Lanzarote, Almería, Granada and in the Strait, including 30 people whose craft capsized off Punta Almina, a cape in Ceutan territory. Spain’s air-sea rescue service said that thus far in 2013 1,748 people had successfully crossed the Strait of Gibraltar on 176 boats, which are often little more than rubber dinghies.