It’s become an almost daily routine in Melilla and Ceuta — two Spanish enclaves on the Moroccan coast, tiny corners of Europe separated from North Africa by nothing but a couple fences.
Hundreds of sub-Saharan migrants wait for their chance to bypass Moroccan border patrols, rush the fences, then climb out of Africa and into Europe.
They move in groups of hundreds which gives a greater number of people a chance to make it through.
The migrants often get injured in the process, or caught before reaching the frontier. If they do, they go back to Morocco, and wait for the next opportunity to jump the fence.
That’s how 140 migrants made their escape into Europe on Thursday, taking advantage of the early morning fog. Some 750 people had reportedly approached the fence from two different points and hundreds of them were arrested by Moroccan police, according to local reports.
The video below shows crowds of migrants climbing a fence, with some being taken away before making it over. Spanish police and medics can also be seen on the European side of the border.
Spain spent 30 million euros building up the barriers around Melilla and Ceuta in 2004, the sole land borders between Europe and Africa.
But over the last year, groups of migrants have increasingly taken to charging the rows of seven-yard-high chain-link fences. Some 1,600 have already crossed the border this way in 2014 — more than the total number who made it over throughout the whole of last year.
Jumping the fence is not the only way out of Africa. On February 6, Spanish military police in Ceuta fired rubber bullets at migrants swimming near the enclave’s shore — another way into European territory. At least 15 people drowned in Moroccan waters on that occasion.
The incident sparked fierce condemnation by human rights groups and EU officials, and forced Spain's interior ministry to ban border guards from resorting to rubber bullets.
International law prohibits deportations “on the spot,” and most immigrants are taken to increasingly over-saturated welcome centers if they make it across. There, they are sheltered, identified, and have their cases reviewed — including possible appeals for asylum.
In theory, the Melilla fence is actually on Spanish territory, and people sitting on it are to be considered “in Spain,” according to the news agency Europa Press.
But as the problem has grown larger, border authorities have taken to stopping migrants atop the fence and escorting them right back to the Moroccan side, in what Spain’s interior ministry has called “rejections at the border” — justified on the grounds that the migrants have not yet “stepped” on Spanish soil.
Follow Alice Speri on Twitter: @alicesperi