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Published: Friday February 7, 2014 MYT 5:20:02 AM
Updated: Friday February 7, 2014 MYT 5:21:07 AM

Nine migrants drown swimming to Spain's Moroccan enclave

MADRID/RABAT (Reuters) - Nine people drowned on Thursday as they, and some 200 other African migrants, tried to swim to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta from neighbouring Morocco, the Spanish government said.

Spain has two enclaves in the north African country, Ceuta and Mellila, and migrants regularly try to reach them either by swimming along the coast or climbing the triple walls that separate them from Morocco.

The bodies of eight men and one woman were recovered from Moroccan waters, the Spanish government representative in Ceuta said.

The migrants had earlier tried to cross the razor-wire lined frontier, but gave up as Spanish police drove them back, the official said.

Every year thousands of African migrants try to reach the European coast, and there are rescues and drownings almost every week off Morocco.

Around 3,000 illegal migrants entered Spain in the first half of 2013, official data shows, double the figure for the same period in 2012. Most came through the Moroccan enclaves.

The pressure on Ceuta and Melilla has intensified as more migrants try to access Spain by land rather than by sea where controls have increased, Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz said.

"The unstable situation that created the Arab Spring, the huge amount of people displaced by violent conflict and the tragedy of Syria has added to traditional sub-Saharan migration," he said.

Many still try to enter Europe by sea, however. On Wednesday the Italian navy rescued more than 1,100 migrants from nine rafts in the waters south of Sicily.

Last Sunday, Moroccan authorities recovered five bodies of African migrants off the coast of the northern town of Nador, four of them were from Senegal.

(Additional reporting by Raquel Castillo in Madrid; Writing by Sonya Dowsett)

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