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Hundreds storm Morocco-Spain frontier in latest bid to reach EU

Migrants break through border to reach Cueta in a bid to gain asylum in Europe, days after one of largest rushes in more than a decade
Migrants celebrate outside an immigration centre in the Spanish territory of Ceuta (AFP)

Hundreds of migrants streamed through the border between Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Ceuta on Monday, authorities said, days after one of the largest rush of arrivals over the frontier in more than a decade.

About 300 young migrants broke access gates of the fence into Ceuta, the north African territory that is part of Spain, ecstatic to have finally crossed into a European Union state.

Some kissed the ground and shouted "Thank you, Lord" and "Viva Espana", though several had bloodied hands and feet as well as torn clothes after scaling the barrier.

Some "356 managed to get in," said a Spanish official. "They entered after breaking access gates with shears and hammers."  

Ceuta and Melilla, also a Spanish territory in North Africa, have the EU's only land borders with Africa, so are entry points for migrants who either climb the border fence, swim along the coast or hide in vehicles.

Spanish police told AFP that "300 entered, double that number tried".

Their arrival came just days after nearly 500 migrants made it over the fence on Friday, one of the biggest entries since the border barrier was reinforced in 2005.

It also comes amid a dispute between Morocco and the EU over the interpretation of a free-trade farm and fishing deal.

In a late 2016 ruling, an EU court said the deal did not apply to the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony controlled by Rabat where the Polisario Front is fighting for independence.

The court said this was because the status of the disputed territory remained unclear according to the international community.

The 28-nation bloc did not recognise it as part of Morocco.

The ruling opened the way for the Polisario Front and its supporters to contest trade in products from the Western Sahara between Morocco and the 28 EU states.

The decision angered Morocco, which on 7 February suggested it could lead to "a new flow of migration" towards Europe and place the continent "at risk".

The last such mass attempt took place on New Year's Day when more than 1,000 migrants tried to jump a high double fence between Morocco and Ceuta in a violent assault that saw one officer lose an eye.

The enclave is ringed by a double wire fence 8km long. The six-metre high fence is topped by rolls of barbed wire.

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