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MADRID — Spanish authorities say they are worried about violent “military tactics” used by would-be African immigrants who have taken the small Spanish-ruled enclave of Melilla as a potential means of crossing into Europe.
“They’re using military tactics and strategies,” the governor of the Spanish town on Moroccan territory, Jose Fernandez Chacon, told the Madrid daily El Pais. “We can’t rule out the notion that militias with experience of waging African wars are among them.”
About 300 Africans stormed the double metal fencing surrounding Melilla “trying to cross by force and in a synchronized operation,” in which 10 Spanish Civil Guards and three of the immigrants were wounded overnight Sunday, Civil Guard authorities said.
“Methods are changing,” said Jesus Gomez, a spokesman in the Melilla governor’s office. “The attacks are swifter, more violent, and before they used to come only in small groups.”
Yesterday, a Civil Guard in Madrid said one of the immigrants was killed in a stampede during the storming. The human rights group SOS Racism said witnesses described seeing Civil Guards beat to death two men, both from Cameroon, and dumping their bodies onto Moroccan territory.
Immigrants from North Africa and West Africa are camped by the hundreds in Morocco, hoping to make their move. The forced entry Sunday, using makeshift ladders, was the second such attempt in three days.
It is very difficult to enter Melilla, but the few who succeed take the risk because once across, they are taken, under Spanish law, to a temporary hostel center where they get food, medical care and legal aid — with the chance of a passport to Spain and thus Europe.
“About a dozen managed to get in” overnight Sunday, with a similar number making it over the wire on Friday, Mr. Gomez said.
The last concerted assault on such a scale was in August last year, when almost 500 people tried to cross.
People from the Arabic-speaking North African countries making up the Maghreb, including Morocco, and hundreds from Mali, Cameroon, Niger, Senegal and Nigeria scrape by in dismal camps particularly on the slopes of Mount Gurugu, overlooking the sea, with a hope of fleeing poverty in Africa and a dream of a new life in Europe.
The hostel center can accommodate 400 potential immigrants, and if more arrive, they’re sent to other centers on the Spanish peninsula, Mr. Gomez said. “We apply the law, which means giving immigrants a decent reception.”
Once on the Spanish mainland, those without papers are given their freedom with an expulsion warning if their nationality cannot be established or if their state of origin has no repatriation agreement with Spain. Only six African countries do: Morocco, Algeria, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania and Nigeria.
Khalid Jemmah, the Casablanca-based head of the Association of Friends and Families of the Victims of Clandestine Immigration, a humanitarian organization, said that five years ago, “there were no more than 400 people in the whole north” of the country seeking to emigrate. “Now there are several thousand of them.”
(Posted on August 31, 2005)