MADRID – Authorities said 160 would-be migrants tried to break into a fenced-off Spanish enclave on the north African coast Monday, and Spain's foreign minister worried more may head to Spanish islands near Morocco.
Officials said the migrants tried to breach two sections of the fence between Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Melilla early in the morning, with about 10 succeeding in entering Spanish territory.
A similar storming was thwarted Sunday, but 70 other illegal migrants, swimming or wading, managed to reach the uninhabited Spanish island of Isla de Tierra off Morocco.
Many migrants from Africa try dangerous crossings to reach Spanish territory illegally in hopes of gaining work and a better life — often turning to people-smuggling rings along the way.
But migration is a sensitive issue for Spain, especially now as it grapples with a double-dip recession and near 25 percent unemployment after the collapse of a real estate bubble.
Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia Margallo said he had spoken with his Moroccan counterpart, Saadeddine El Othmani, to seek ways to avert a greater influx of migrants.
"We must avoid creating a clarion call effect which would attract immigrants, filling our islands," Margallo said. "Only regular, legal immigration can incorporate migrants into a new country with dignity."
Spain has three enclaves on Africa's northern Mediterranean coast and several tiny islands off it.
Isla de Tierra — part of the Alhucemas Islands archipelago — measures 1.7 hectares (4.2 acre) and is just 30 meters (100 feet) off Morocco at low tide.
Illegal immigrants can be sent back only to their countries of origin, but Margallo said those who reached Isla de Tierra lacked passports or other identification, so they could not be deported immediately.
As a result, they are restricted to the rocky island, and the Spanish army is supplying them with a bare minimum of items to survive until a decision is made about their future, Margallo said.
The foreign minister alleged that the attempts at rushing the Melilla fences and the landings on Isla de Tierra were "coordinated efforts by people-smuggling mafias."
He said concerted attempts to breach Spain's borders were a concern for the European Union and required a united response.
"This is not the first time Europe has faced this kind of situation," Margallo said, highlighting Italy's experience with migrants fleeing Libya during the revolution that overthrew dictator Moammar Gadhafi.