Morocco and Spain blame people-smuggling mafias for Melilla tragedy

23 migrants dead in the attack on the fence
REUTERS/JESÚS BLASCO DE AVELLANEDA  -   Fotografía de archivo. Migrantes africanos sentados en la cima de una valla fronteriza durante un intento de cruzar a territorios españoles, entre Marruecos y el enclave norteafricano de Melilla

REUTERS/JESÚS BLASCO DE AVELLANEDA  -   File photo. African migrants during an attempt to cross into Spanish territory, between Morocco and the North African enclave of Melilla.

Rabat and Madrid reach a common conclusion regarding the attempt by thousands of migrants, mostly sub-Saharan Africans, to cross the Spanish-Moroccan border last Friday. Both countries blame human smuggling mafias for pushing the migrants to defy Moroccan and Spanish security agents and violently storm the Melilla fence.

Moroccan government spokesman Mustafa Baitas condemned the incident, describing it as "acts" and "manoeuvres" carried out by smuggling networks, illegal organisations that "sell illusions to people to push them into situations with uncalculated consequences", according to Al-Ain. 

Due to the seriousness of the matter, Baitas urged the authorities not to be lenient with these organisations, as, according to the spokesman, these acts "aim to confuse Morocco's migration practices, in which a humanitarian approach is adopted"

On Friday morning, some 2,000 migrants stormed the fence separating the towns of Nador (Morocco) and Melilla (Spain). As a result of an avalanche, 23 people were killed, according to Morocco. Members of the Spanish and Moroccan security forces were also injured.

According to the authorities in Nador, 140 law enforcement officers were injured, including five seriously. The northern Moroccan city also assured that all the injured, whether security forces or migrants, were taken to the Al-Hassani Hospital and the University Hospital Centre in Oujda to receive "help and the necessary treatment". 

For his part, the Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, has described the incident as an "attack on the territorial integrity" of the country. The Spanish leader, like Rabat, blames the mafias that traffic in human beings. 

Sánchez also highlighted the "exceptional cooperation" between the Moroccan gendarmerie and the Spanish security forces "to repel this violent assault". As Al-Arab points out, this coordination is the result of an agreement reached in Madrid this month between the Spanish Interior Minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, and his Moroccan counterpart, Abdelouafi Laftit. 

The Arabic daily also recalls that during the first quarter of this year, the Moroccan authorities have foiled more than 14,700 illegal immigration attempts and dismantled 52 people-smuggling networks.

For years, thousands of migrants have been trying to cross into Melilla and Ceuta, the European Union's only land borders with the African continent. The last serious episode occurred in May 2021, when some 8,000 people jumped the Ceuta fence amid the diplomatic crisis between Morocco and Spain.