CEUTA, Spain,(Reuters) – Two African migrants died on Thursday as hundreds stormed a razorwire fence between Morocco and a Spanish enclave, the third assault in as many days on the rich European Union”s only land borders with Africa.
Government officials in the outpost of Ceuta said the two were either crushed in a stampede or fell, with 30 others injured. The Civil Guard said one was trampled to death and the other suffocated.
State radio cited Spanish police sources as saying four Africans had died in the mass influx.
"We”ve never seen numbers like this before — a group this big and so organised and coordinated," Jeronimo Nieto, Madrid”s top official in Ceuta, told state radio.
As concern grew in Spain about the growing flood of illegal migrants, many of whom cannot be sent home if they make it in, Defence Minister Jose Bono told parliament the army would now reinforce border police in Madrid”s two North African enclaves.
The assault on Ceuta followed two nights of similar disturbances at the razorwire fence sealing off Melilla, the other enclave 200 km (125 miles) to the east.
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero will discuss the problem when he meets his Moroccan counterpart Driss Jettou in the southern Spanish city of Seville on Thursday.
Migrants have long tried to use Melilla and Ceuta as a gateway to a better life in Spain and the EU but these are by far the biggest assaults on the enclaves, which Spain has owned since the 15th century.
Thousands also try to make it by boat over the Mediterranean to southern European countries, but many die en route.
It was unclear how many migrants entered Ceuta. In Melilla this week, Spanish civil guards in riot gear repelled most of the nearly 1,000 migrants trying to scramble over the fence using makeshift ladders, but around 300 made it in.
Morocco, which claims both Spanish enclaves, is struggling to deal with an influx of sub-Saharan Africans into its territory as well as curb migrants” attempts to use sea routes to cross to Spain illegally.
Under a bilateral agreement, Spain can send back Moroccan illegal immigrants but it lacks repatriation agreements with many other African countries.
The Spanish therefore often have no choice but to free these migrants once they reach Spain, after handing them an expulsion order which the authorities cannot carry out.
Juan Jesus Vivas, head of Ceuta”s local government, urged Madrid to work towards a deal with Rabat which would allow Spanish authorities to send sub-Saharan migrants back to Morocco rather than their country of origin.
Relations between Spain and Morocco were often strained under the former centre-right government of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.
They hit a low in 2002 when Aznar ordered the military to capture a disputed and uninhabited islet off the Moroccan coast that had been occupied by a small contingent of Moroccan troops.
Ties have improved greatly under Zapatero”s 18-month-old Socialist government.