immigration

Interior Minister to visit Ceuta and Melilla over “emergency” border situation

Police spokesman warns of a potential “invasion” of migrants as crisis deepens

The Spanish government is moving to stem the “rising tide” of sub-Saharan migrants trying to reach Europe by jumping the border fences separating its exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla from Moroccan territory.

Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz is scheduled to pay an emergency visit to Ceuta on Wednesday and Melilla on Thursday to personally review the border perimeter and discuss the situation with National Police and Civil Guard officials.

The move comes after several coordinated runs on the fences by hundreds of migrants at a time. Those who make it over cannot be immediately deported back, according to Spanish legislation. The latest attempt was made on Monday, when around 1,500 people rushed the Ceuta fence at around 5.30am. None made it over, but messages talking about a new attempt in the coming days are being posted on social networking sites, which would-be migrants are apparently using to coordinate their movements.

The mafias are behind all these movements," said the minister

Fernández Díaz is backing up his theory about a “rising tide” with reports from Morocco of around 40,000 migrants waiting near Ceuta and Melilla for their chance to make it into Spain. A similar amount of border transients are allegedly in Mauritania and will soon be crossing into Morocco to pursue the same dream of reaching Europe via Spain's North African exclave.

While Fernández Díaz himself stopped short of calling it an invasion, a spokesman for the UFP police union said Ceuta and Melilla were “being literally invaded.”

“The mafias are behind all these movements, they are very alert because our Civil Guard's work has been questioned, and [the mafias] believe there is a weakness [they can exploit],” said the interior minister, in reference to the political pressure from the European Union over the death of 15 migrants on February 6. The tragedy occurred when the sub-Saharans were driven back from the border by officers firing rubber bullets. EU officials believe this may have caused a stampede into the water that resulted in the deaths by drowning. The Civil Guard has since been instructed not to use such weapons again.

There has also been strong internal pressure from opposition parties to create an investigative committee into the events of February 6, although the ruling Popular Party (PP) quashed that motion on Tuesday.

The Spanish government is now asking the EU for 45 million euros to help police the borders and is working on a formula that would legally allow the authorities to turn migrants back immediately after they reach Spanish territory.

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