MELILLA, Spain – Hundreds of African migrants charged a razor-wire border fence at a Spanish enclave in northern Morocco (search) before dawn Thursday, and five people were killed and 50 injured, prompting Spain to send troops to secure the frontier, officials said.
Two Africans had died on Spanish soil and three in Morocco, Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega (search) said at a news conference during a meeting with Moroccan Prime Minister Driss Jettou (search) in the southern Spanish city of Seville.
Defense Minister Jose Bono said Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero ordered him to deploy soldiers to help the Civil Guard patrolling the fences that separate the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla from Morocco.
"The president of the government has given me the order that as of today the Civil Guard should be reinforced by the army to tackle this problem, and this will be done," Bono said.
The Interior Ministry office in Ceuta said one of the victims had gotten caught on the razor-wire fence as he tried to climb over. Another was said to have died after being crushed by the crowd.
The pre-dawn charge was the latest in a series of attempts this week by crowds to rush border crossings at the Spanish enclaves. A few hundred have managed to make it across, authorities said.
Every year, thousands of people also cross from Morocco to Spain's mainland packed into small boats, trying to escape poverty in northern or sub-Saharan Africa. Many drown in the attempt, while those caught usually are deported.
A Ceuta Interior Ministry official said guards were taken by surprise.
"We didn't think this would happen," the official, Jeronimo Nieto, told Spanish National Radio. "We had the security forces at the perimeter on the alert for something like this. ... A group that big, organized and coordinated and the sudden way it happened last night was something fairly new to us."
He said that he had talked with Interior Minister Jose Alonso about the need to make the fence taller and deploy more police in the area.
On Wednesday, 40 Africans were injured in a mass attempt to charge a fence surrounding Melilla with makeshift ladders. Several hundred managed to get through to Spanish territory, authorities said. Another group of some 500 did the same on Tuesday.
On Thursday, hundreds of the detained African immigrants braved stifling heat in a makeshift holding center in Melilla within view of stretches of the two-rowed, 10-foot barbed-wire fence.
Wearing dirty jeans and worn-out flip-flops or ill-fitting sneakers, some described their ordeal of using makeshift ladders of tree branches to climb over at night.
"To climb in the night and jump down is not easy, " said Felix Akah, a 33-year-old electrician from Cameroon.
Akah said he left home nine months ago after deciding he couldn't make a living in Africa. He lived in the forest in Morocco for more than three months and said he can't remember how many times he's gotten caught trying to cross.
"I cannot even count them," he said.
Akah said there were still up to 400 Africans living in the forest in the area he left in Morocco.
Eric Aborah, 17, said he left his native Ghana 21/2 years ago on an odyssey through a half-dozen countries in Africa before making it to Morocco, where he spent eight months in the forest before crossing into Melilla on Tuesday.
"It is not easy to climb, and you only have to give everything to God and jump," said Aborah, who cried as he explained he had no relatives in Spain and that both his parents were dead.
He said he had heard a group was going to rush the border and thought it would be safer in large numbers.
The immigrant camp is estimated to hold more than 1,000 people, more than twice its capacity. Virtually all are young black men from countries such as Nigeria, Cameroon Mali and Ghana.
Spain recently said it would double the height of the Melilla fence to 20 feet along the six-mile border with Morocco. The work is expected to be completed by early 2006. It is Europe's only border with Africa.