Europe or 'death' for Moroccans scrambling into Spanish enclave

·2-min read

Exhausted and ashen-faced, Moroccan teenager Amal waited all night to join thousands who dream of reaching Europe through a tiny Spanish enclave on North Africa's Mediterranean coast.

"We know it's an adventure but death doesn't scare me. It's dying poor, here, that's what scares me," said the out-of-school and jobless 18-year-old who was turned back by Moroccan guards at dawn.

She had rushed from the nearby village of Martil after reading on Facebook that "people were making it through to (the enclave of) Ceuta without getting arrested" by Moroccan border guards.

In an unprecedented influx Monday, at a time of high tension between Rabat and Madrid, thousands of would-be migrants reached the enclave by swimming or walking at low tide from neighbouring Moroccan beaches.

Spanish authorities put their number at 6,000, including about 2,700 minors, almost half of whom have already been sent back.

One man drowned trying to swim across, according to Spanish officials.

After 24 hours of inaction, Moroccan border guards at the Fnideq border crossing on Tuesday fired tear gas to disperse a crowd of hundreds more hoping to take advantage of the rare opportunity to slip across.

But other groups scattered along the border appeared undeterred.

Warda and Khadija, both 26 and from Tetouan, 35 kilometres (20 miles) to the east, said they came to Fnideq because of footage posted on Facebook apparently showing police "allowing" migrants to cross unhindered.

Warda, a mother of two, said she had "nothing to lose".

"The idea of staying here frightens me," said Khadija.

- Deepening poverty -

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit the North African country of 36 million people, poverty levels have soared seven-fold, according to Morocco's HCP planning commission.

In the Fnideq region, a crackdown on smuggling and Morocco's more than year-long border closures to contain the spread of Covid-19 have left thousands of locals unemployed.

Early Tuesday, another 300 migrants, said to be mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, attempted to cross into Spain's other North African enclave of Melilla by scaling a high barrier.

Authorities in Melilla said "85 men and one woman succeeded in entering".

Ceuta and Melilla have the European Union's only land borders with Africa, making them popular entry points for migrants seeking a better life in Europe.

The wave of arrivals comes at a time of diplomatic tension between Madrid and Rabat, after it emerged that Polisario Front leader Brahim Ghali arrived in northern Spain in mid-April and is being treated in hospital for Covid-19.

The Polisario Front has long fought for the independence of Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony that is mainly under Moroccan control.

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