RABAT, Morocco (AP) — Seven people drowned Thursday trying to evade border guards who blocked hundreds of immigrants attempting to force their way into the Spanish enclave of Ceuta on the Moroccan coast, Spanish and Moroccan officials said.
The Spanish Interior Ministry said some 250 people tried at dawn to make their way along the land crossing to Sebta which juts out from the coast on fortified peninsula and were driven back by border guards, prompting many to attempt to swim around the frontier fence.
Moroccan guards intercepted 150 of them and emergency services recovered seven who drowned, including one woman. Another 13 were sent to a local hospital, the Moroccan state news agency said, citing local authorities.
The local branch of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights in the nearby city of Tetouan, citing local witnesses, said Spanish border guards initially used tear gas to repulse the immigrants before Moroccan security forces dispersed them with truncheons.
With two Spanish enclaves on its coast, Morocco is a magnet for immigrants from all over Africa seeking jobs in Europe.
Every month, hundreds of immigrants attempt to force their way into Ceuta, near the city of Tetouan, and Melilla to the east using human wave tactics to scale the high fences. Rights groups have repeatedly criticized the treatment of migrants at the hands of security forces, describing beatings, arbitrary arrests, abuse and expulsions across desert borders without water.
Morocco has an estimated 25,000 illegal immigrants on its soil and has announced a new policy to regularize their status though authorities admit that would only affect a few hundred people.
Associated Press writer Ciaran Giles in Madrid contributed to this report.