- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 27, 2005

MADRID — Hundreds of migrants desperate to enter Europe tried to storm a security fence on the Spanish-Moroccan border yesterday in scenes reminiscent of a medieval siege.

Using dozens of ladders and the sheer force of numbers, about 100 of the mainly sub-Saharan African migrants scaled the 15-foot-high fence around the Spanish enclave of Melilla.

Eighteen persons, including six policemen “forced to deploy riot gear” to hold back the flow of people, were slightly hurt in the incident, a spokesman for the Melilla prefecture said. The would-be immigrants “offered strong resistance,” he said.

A dozen suffered slight injuries after falling from makeshift ladders used to try to breach the fence. Spanish police said that all of the people who scaled the fence were detained.

Such mass assaults on this outpost of Europe on the African continent have become more common, leaving torn clothes on barbed wire, splintered ladders, and several dead and dozens of injured in their wake.

Police and Spanish Legion troops have fired rubber bullets on their side of the border, while Moroccan security services wielding shotguns and rifles with fixed bayonets have enraged human rights groups.

This month, the Spanish government began to raise the fence to 20 feet in an attempt to deter migrants. Spanish security forces have been playing a game of cat-and-mouse with the migrants as they patrol between the two tiers of fences fortified with sensor pads, movement detectors and infrared cameras.

Ceded by the Portuguese in 1580 and claimed by Morocco, the 60,000-strong garrison town of the Spanish Foreign Legion erected the $42 million fence in 1998.

Spanish police have logged about 12,000 attempts by migrants to reach Melilla this year. The migrants, who often have traveled more than 1,000 miles on foot, live under scraps of plastic in woods near the border. The incident yesterday was the biggest and the best-organized assault on the barrier to date.

When caught in Morocco, the would-be migrants often are marched over the Algerian border. The holding center for illegal aliens in Melilla has about 800 people in a building designed to hold 480.

Last week, 12 were injured when a group of 70 tried to cross the double fences using homemade ladders.

Two died when 300 attempted to storm the border fences on Aug 27. A third died in another attempt two weeks later.

The aid group Doctors Without Borders has criticized what it called “the violence” used by the Spanish and Moroccan security forces. Spanish police deny responsibility for the deaths.

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