MELILLA, Spain – For the fifth time in a week, hundreds of destitute Africans rushed Morocco's border with this Spanish enclave Wednesday, scrambling up a razor-wire fence only to be grabbed by the legs and yanked back by police.
Moroccan officers, often accused of turning a blind eye to the flow of desperate people into Spain, kept nearly all of the 500 men from reaching their dream of a foothold in this tiny European outpost.
"There were Moroccan police everywhere," said Abdurahman Seku, a 25-year-old Malian who was one of about 65 who got across. He and other new arrivals said Moroccan officers beat the climbing men with truncheons.
Spain (search) praised Morocco's stepped-up security. Later in the day, Spanish authorities began unrolling concertina wire on the ground between the two 10-foot fences between the only European and African countries to share a land border.
Crews also have been doubling the height of the inner fence, but had not reached the stretch assaulted Wednesday.
Many would-be migrants journey for months and even years with hopes of getting into Melilla, which is seen as a gateway to work in Europe (search) and an escape from Africa's poverty.
Most of those who make it onto Spanish territory can't be sent back because their home governments won't take them. Spanish law allows them to be held for only 40 days, and they eventually are released to fend for themselves without work permits or residency papers.
Wednesday's assault on the border fence was the fifth mass rush in a week. On Monday alone, 350 climbed the first fence with ladders made from tree branches and then ripped down sections of the second barrier, streaming into Melilla bloodied and limping.
Mussa Mahamed, another 21-year-old Malian who succeeded in crossing Wednesday, said the latest mob rushed a roughly 50-yard stretch of the frontier fence but most were dragged off the fence by Moroccan police.
As in the other recent crossing attempts, razor wire topping the inner fence was strewn with gloves, shirts and strips of cloth.
Mahamed said he scaled both fences with his bare hands. He held out his palms to show nasty scrapes and cuts, and said a blow from a Moroccan police baton dislocated one of his thumbs.
"A lot of my colleagues were hurt," said Seku, the other Malian.
The Moroccan state news agency, MAP, quoted Morocco's ambassador to the European Union, Menouar Alem, as saying Morocco is doing all it can to slow illegal immigration "despite the absence of European aid." But he said Morocco doesn't have the resources to halt an "incessant flow" of people from sub-Saharan Africa.
MAP said 123 people from sub-Saharan Africa were caught on the Moroccan side of the border Wednesday. It said Moroccan security officers patrolling the 6-mile border had been reinforced and now totaled 1,300.
At an overflowing holding facility for migrants in Melilla, the numbers of walking wounded swelled. Men in bloody clothes hobbled gingerly on feet wrapped with thick bandages, waiting in line to eat lunch or pick up plastic bags with personal hygiene items like toothbrushes.
At one point they staged a frantic tug-of-war over T-shirts and other second-hand garments brought in by a relief agency. Many sat silently, some wearing bulky clothes despite a blazing sun. Others walked around asking for cigarettes or looking to borrow a cell phone to call home.
Many of the Africans travel for a year or more to reach Morocco so they can try to cross into Spain and look for work. Mahamed said his trip took 21/2 years.
On Sept. 27, two groups estimated at 500 men each tried to enter Melilla, and about 300 made it, crossing at two areas where the fence was yet to be raised.
In another incident last week, five Africans died when 500 men tried to rush into Ceuta, another Spanish enclave 300 miles west of Melilla on the Moroccan coast. All five suffered gunshot wounds, and both countries are investigating.
On Monday, a wave of 650 Africans tried to cross at a spot in Melilla where the inner fence had been elevated, and the government says 350 made it in. Some 135 were injured.