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Violence in the Spanish enclave fuels fears of worse – Health and Lifestyle News – Report by AFR

A massive attempt by migrants to storm the barrier between Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Melilla sparked “unprecedented violence” that has killed at least 23 sub-Saharan Africans and sparked fears of worse.

“It was like a war, we were holding rocks, small rocks, to fight against the Moroccan military who were beating us with sticks by any means necessary,” said a 20-year-old Sudanese migrant at a detention center in Melilla.

“I climbed over the fence but a Moroccan guard slapped my hands. I passed out on the Spanish side where I was beaten up by Spanish troops,” said another.

They were among 2,000 migrants who stormed the heavily fortified border between the Moroccan region of Nador and the enclave of Melilla on Friday.

At least 23 migrants died and 140 police officers were injured, according to Moroccan authorities – the highest number of casualties in such attempts in years.

Many of the migrants, often from war-torn regions such as Sudan’s Darfur region, have spent months or even years in precarious, dangerous conditions in the nearby Gourougou forest, enduring beatings and arrests to seek a better life in Spain.

However, observers said the latest attempt was unprecedented in terms of the level of violence.

“It is the first time that we are seeing this level of violence by migrants themselves against security forces,” said Omar Naji of the AMDH rights group’s Nador office.

The violence has increased fears among Moroccans in the region.

“We are terrorized by what has happened,” said Issame Ouaaid, 24, from the border district of Barrio Chino.

“It’s the first time we’ve seen migrants carrying iron bars to fight with the police.”

– Migrants are treated “very harshly” –

Naji linked the level of violence to a recent improvement in relations between Spain and Morocco, leading to renewed anti-migrant cooperation and tougher enforcement.

Morocco, the only African country that shares a land border with the EU, is an important conduit for migrants fleeing war and poverty.

But the kingdom has also been accused – by Spain – of using migration flows as a tool to exert political pressure.

In May 2021, about 10,000 migrants streamed across the border into Spain’s other enclave of Ceuta when Moroccan border guards looked the other way, in what was widely seen as a punitive gesture by Rabat in a political row over the disputed territory of Western Sahara.

The resumption of ties between the two countries earlier this year following a rapprochement with Western Sahara has led to “intensified pressure” on migrants living in the forested hills near the border, Naji said.

According to Madrid, the number of migrants reaching Spanish territory has decreased in recent months.

“Moroccan authorities treat migrants very harshly and raid their camps,” Naji said.

“There is no doubt that this pressure produced the unprecedented violence that we are seeing.”

– Ceuta bid foiled –

Prior to Friday’s incident, Spanish media reported several clashes between migrants and security forces who had evicted residents from camps and displaced some from the border region.

For Othmane Ba, president of an association for migrants from sub-Saharan Africa in Morocco, “the difficult conditions these migrants face condition them psychologically for violence”.

Much of the migrants arriving in Morocco are originally from Sudan, particularly in the Darfur region, where a fresh surge in violence has killed 125 and displaced 50,000.

On their way to Morocco, many pass through Libya, which is notorious for rights abuses by armed groups against migrants.

Once they arrive in Morocco, many are willing to risk their lives to get to Europe.

“There are people here who have been waiting to come over for two or three years,” Naji said.

Moroccan authorities said on Sunday they had foiled a plot by migrants to cross the border into Ceuta, arresting 59 people in the process.

But, Naji said, “Morocco cannot completely close its borders and play the role of policing Europe. These policies can only lead to more violence.”

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