MADRID — Spanish police closed a border crossing between its North African enclave of Melilla and Morocco after Moroccan authorities warned that a large number of Syrian migrants were going to try to push across by se, officials said Friday.
Officials in Morocco said some 80 Syrians, including men, women and children, attempted to cross the border late Thursday but were stopped by Moroccan forces without incident. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The office of Spain’s Interior Ministry in Melilla said the crossing was closed for several hours until Moroccan forces dispersed the group.
Melilla is surrounded by Morocco and the Mediterranean Sea. Migrants, mostly sub-Saharan, seeking to get to Europe camp on the Moroccan side, with several thousand trying each year to enter Melilla, and Spain’s other coastal enclave of Ceuta.
Last week, at least 13 migrants drowned in Moroccan waters while trying to enter Ceuta by sea after several hundred migrants tried to storm the enclave’s border by land.
Moroccan rights groups later cited migrants as saying Spanish police fired rubber bullets at them in the sea, possibly leading to some deaths. Spanish opposition parties also sharply criticized the police actions.
Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz on Thursday denied the police operation had anything to do with the drownings.
He admitted that police fired rubber bullets into Spanish waters to dissuade the migrants but stressed that none hit near them. He said the bullets were mean as a deterrent, and were fired some 25 meters from the migrants in the water. Fernandez Diaz added that the police actions were appropriate given the aggressive behavior of the migrants
Previously Spanish authorities had said rubber bullets had been fired only when the migrants tried to storm the land fence.