MADRID, June 24 (Reuters) – About 400 migrants on Friday stormed a high fence that seals off Spain’s North African enclave of Melilla, of whom a large group managed to cross over from Morocco after a two-hour skirmish with border officers, Spanish authorities said.

Melilla and Ceuta, a second Spanish enclave also on Africa’s northern coast, have over the past decade become popular crossing points for illegal African migrants trying to get into Europe.

“A large group of sub-Saharans… broke through the access gate of the Barrio Chino border checkpoint and entered Melilla by jumping over the roof of the checkpoint,” the Spanish government’s representative authority there said in a statement, without saying how many crossed.

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The storming of the border began around 6:40 a.m. local time and the crossing took place at 8:40, “despite an extensive operation by Moroccan forces,” it said.

The incursion was the first significant one into either enclave since mid-March, when Spain adopted a pro-Morocco stance over Western Sahara, a territory that Rabat considers its own but where an Algeria-backed independence movement is demanding the establishment of a sovereign state.

In the weeks of 2022 prior to that shift, migrant entries into the two enclaves had more than trebled compared with the same period of 2021.

In mid-2021, as many as 8,000 people swam into Ceuta or clambered over its fence over a couple of days, taking advantage of the apparent lifting of a security net on the Moroccan side of the border following a bilateral diplomatic spat.

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Reporting by Emma Pinedo, editing by Aislinn Laing and John Stonestreet

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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