MELILLA, Spain (AP)- Soldiers with automatic weapons and police with anti-riot gear patrolled the razor wire fences along the border of Spain”s two enclaves with Morocco Friday, a day after five Africans were killed as hundreds of immigrants rushed the fence at one enclave in a bid to enter Europe.
Spain deployed some 500 troops to Melilla and Ceuta, both located on Morocco”s northern coast, following the death of the five Africans when immigrants tried to scale the border fence in Ceuta before dawn Thursday.
Spanish news reports said all five bodies, two found on the Spanish side of the border and three on the Moroccan side, had gunshot wounds, allegedly from bullets fired by Moroccan security forces.
Morocco has not commented on the report. Both countries” governments have pledged a joint investigation into the deaths.
"Everything was quiet last night on the border," a spokesman for the Interior Ministry in the Melilla enclave told The Associated Press Friday.
Prior to the border rush in Ceuta, there had been several similar attempts earlier in the week at Melilla. In recent years, thousands of sub-Saharan Africans fleeing poverty have traveled to Morocco in the hope of crossing into Spain. Most of them live in the hills close to the borders.
Ceuta and Melilla, parts of Spain for centuries, are Europe”s only borders with the African continent. Besides attempts to enter the enclaves, thousands of mostly Moroccans and sub-Saharan Africans cross clandestinely from Morocco to Spain”s mainland in small
boats each year. Many drown in the attempt, and those caught are mostly deported.
At least three Africans died in recent crossings, but Thursday”s deaths were the first to include reports of gunfire.
In Ceuta and Melilla, the immigrants used ladders made of tree branches to cross the double line of three-meter (10-foot) high fencing that runs the entire of perimeter of the cities.
Spain is used to heartbreaking stories of destitute Africans risking their lives to reach Europe”s southern gateway in hopes of starting a new life.
But while midnight dashes to scale the fences are nothing new, the number of people doing so rose dramatically over the past few months, and in the last week.
"In the last few days we have had a different phenomenon, an avalanche of immigrants not seen before that surely has circumstantial causes that we will combat," Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said Thursday.
In an editorial Friday, the leading Spanish daily El Pais said: "There is an immediate problem which has claimed eight victims in a month and which demands urgent solutions. But there is a more serious problem which can only be resolved over the long term which is the economic inequality between the African and European continents which turns the two Spanish cities in northern Africa into
siphons for immigration," the paper added.
Zapatero and Moroccan counterpart Driss Jettou agreed economic development for Morocco and Africa as a whole were key to resolving the problem.
Those caught this week have being placed in already-overflowing temporary holding centers in both Ceuta and Melilla.
One new arrival in Melilla, Eric Aborah, 17, said he left his native Ghana two and a half years ago and passed through six countries in Africa before making it to Morocco, where he spent eight months living in the forest before making the crossing Tuesday.
Felix Akah, a 33-year-old electrician from Cameroon, said he lost his job when the French company he worked for was bought by Americans and he could no longer support his wife and two daughters, aged 1 and 3. He said it took almost nine months to make his way north to Morocco. Zapatero”s political opponents contend the recent waves of migrants were instigated by Morocco, which claims both Ceuta and Melilla, perhaps to put pressure on Spain during a previously-scheduled summit with Morocco in Seville, Spain, on Thursday.
The opposition Popular Party says Zapatero”s Socialist government is partly to blame, arguing that an amnesty it pushed through Parliament this year for thousands of undocumented foreigners is luring many other Africans in the mistaken belief they can get papers.