Spanish PM: Melilla migrant rush an attack on ‘territorial integrity’

The Prime Minister described a deadly migrant rush in the enclave of Melilla as "an attack on the territorial integrity" of Spain which he blamed on "mafias that traffic in human beings".

Spanish PM: Melilla migrant rush an attack on 'territorial integrity'
A member of the Moroccan security forces on the border fence separating Morocco from Spain's North African Melilla enclave. Photo: Hicham RAFIH/AFP

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Saturday described a deadly migrant rush in the enclave of Melilla bordering Morocco as “an attack on the territorial integrity” of Spain which he blamed on “mafias that traffic in human beings”.

Dramatic scenes on Friday saw some 2,000 migrants storm border fences separating Morocco from the Spanish enclave Melilla, leading to at least 18 deaths, according to the latest Moroccan official toll.

READ ALSO: 18 migrants die in mass attempt to enter Spain’s Melilla

“If anyone is responsible for everything that happened at the border, it is the mafias that traffic in human beings,” he told a press conference.

Melilla, along with fellow Spanish enclave Ceuta, are the European Union’s only two borders with the African continent and both towns have long been magnets for migrants willing to risk their lives to reach the bloc.

Sánchez condemned what he termed “a violent and organised assault organised by mafia who traffic human beings to a town situated on Spanish soil. As a result this is an attack on our territorial integrity.”

He added that “the Moroccan gendarmerie worked in concert with (Spanish) troops and security bodies to push back this so violent assault that we witnessed.”

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Why a row is brewing over the care of migrant minors in Spain

The issue of relocating migrant minors from the Canary Islands to other parts of Spain has divided the Spanish right, potentially leading to the break-up of coalitions in regions where the centre and far-right govern together.

Why a row is brewing over the care of migrant minors in Spain

A row over the care of migrant minors who arrived in Spain via the Canary Islands is dividing the Spanish right, with far-right party Vox threatening to pull out of the regional coalitions where it governs with the centre-right Partido Popular (PP).

This week the Spanish government has met with regional leaders in Tenerife to discuss what to do with hundreds of unaccompanied minors who have arrived on the islands. The main aim of these talks is to coordinate the relocation and care of unaccompanied minors in the Canary Islands, which is currently above maximum capacity.

Put simply, the government and regional leaders have been finalising quotas of migrant minors set to be received by each region, as well as potential financial incentives for doing so.

The government’s idea is to centralise the transfer of minors in the event that a region exceeds its maximum occupancy quota, something that has already happened in the Canary Islands, but also in Ceuta and Melilla, Spain’s two autonomous cities in North Africa.

READ ALSO: Cruise ship rescues 68 migrants off Spain’s Canaries, five dead

All three are used as ways to enter Spain, and therefore the EU, by migrants coming from Africa. Migrants going to the Canary Islands, mostly from sub-Saharan African countries, take the dangerous boat journey from the west coast of Africa.

In Ceuta and Melilla, Europe’s only land borders with Africa, sub-Saharan migrants arrive but there’s also a mix of Moroccan and Algerian minors.

Many of the unaccompanied minors are housed in overcrowded and unhygienic immigration centres, with no training, language lesson or education made available to them.

Some of these centres have been described as ‘punishment places’, with conditions so bad that some minors have developed addictions to tranquillising drugs such as Rivotril or Diazepam.

Almost 16,000 migrants arrived to Canaries on clandestine boats called pateras in the first four months of 2024, further worsening the situation for the islands’ local governments, which were already overstretched with the resources available.

The smallest and least populated of the archipelago’s islands – El Hierro – received more migrants than it has inhabitants in 2023.

The national government wants to arrange the transfer and care of 347 minors in total, though the Canary Islands needs to relocate as many as 3,000.

The agreed relocations will be distributed as follows: 31 sent to Catalonia; 30 to Madrid, Andalusia and Extremadura; 29 to Cantabria; 26 to Galicia; 24 to Asturias; 23 to the Valencian Community; 21 to Castilla y León​​; 20 to Castile-La Mancha; 18 to the Basque Country; 16 to Murcia; 15 to Navarre; 10 to the Balearic Islands; and 4 to La Rioja.

The PP governs in several of these regions, five of which in coalition with Vox, which means 209 migrant minors would be sent to right-wing controlled regions of Spain under the proposals. The PP leadership has accepted the proposal. This has infuriated Vox, which has now threatened to pull out of the regional governments.

‘Breaking’ regional coalitions

The decision of the PP’s regional bosses to accept the migrant minors, something the Spanish press suggests was agreed after pressure from the national leadership, has pushed their relationship with Vox to the limit.

Vox leader Santiago Abascal released a statement in response to the proposals in which it accused PP leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo of having “broken the PP-Vox governments” and announced that the party will decide “the next steps” to take in an urgent party meeting.

Sources in several PP coalitions have told Spanish daily El País that there’s now a real risk of a break-up of regional governments.

Feijóo, for his part, has stated that the decision to accept minors in “solidarity” with the Canary Islands is a moral duty. “You cannot threaten anyone for doing their duty and we are going to do our duty,” he said.

READ ALSO: Spanish minister urges EU to ‘deepen’ ties to tackle migration roots

However the outspoken Vox vice-president of Castilla y León, Juan García-Gallardo, has made clear his willingness to leave government if the PP goes ahead with the relocation of immigrant minors.

“It is being said that in order to show solidarity with the Canary Islands we have to contribute to the distribution of all these supposed minors throughout Spain, but the reality is that if it is concluded, if this distribution is carried out,” García-Gallardo said, “the message we are sending to the mafias is that the Spanish border is a joke and that the Spanish border is useless”.

PP sources have accused Vox of potentially breaking the coalition governments, but a Vox statement made clear the far-right party sees Feijóo as the one who “has arbitrarily and self-interestedly broken a relationship of loyalty and collaboration” between the two parties.

It is unclear what it would mean for the regional governments if Vox were to pull out, or if it would be one, several, or all the regions where the right governs in coalition.

However, by shifting responsibility onto the PP’s national leadership rather than the regional ‘barons’, Abascal has left the door open for Vox to maintain its regional coalition agreements while breaking with national leadership.