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Published: Saturday March 1, 2014 MYT 1:10:02 AM
Updated: Saturday March 1, 2014 MYT 1:10:51 AM

More than 200 migrants scale border fence, enter Spanish enclave

MADRID (Reuters) - More than 200 migrants scaled the triple fence surrounding Spain's North African enclave of Melilla on Friday in another mass crossing of the heavily protected border, the Spanish government said.

Earlier this month the European Union asked Spain to explain why police had fired rubber bullets in warning when a group of African migrants tried to wade and swim to Ceuta, another Spanish enclave in North Africa.

Fourteen men died in the February 6 incident when the shots caused panic among the immigrants.

On Friday scores of men from Cameroon and other African countries cried with joy after climbing over the fences, kissed the ground and turned somersaults to celebrate a crossing that many hope will lead to jobs in Europe.

Spain's government said in a statement that the migrants had thrown rocks, sticks and bottles at police to keep them at bay while they crossed.

"The recent incidents... make it clear that the European Union must renew its concerns about these matters," Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said at her weekly news conference on Friday.

She defended the actions of Spanish security forces and said Spain was securing its frontiers on behalf of all of Europe, noting that organised mass border crossings into Ceuta and Melilla are staged by groups that profit on human trafficking.

"There must be an understanding of how difficult it is to manage these borders," she said in response to criticism of the use of rubber bullets to deter immigrants.

Immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa usually enter Ceuta and Melilla without identification papers. Spain houses them in overcrowded processing centres in the territories while trying to establish their identities in order to send them back to countries with which it has repatriation agreements.

Hundreds of hopeful immigrants camp out for weeks and months in Moroccan territory just outside both cities preparing to attempt to climb the fences or to swim along the coast.

In recent years Spain has built new, higher fences around the enclaves - both along the Mediterranean coast of Morocco - and lined them with razor wire, but several thousand immigrants still manage to make the crossing every year.

(Writing by Fiona Ortiz; Editing by Julien Toyer and Alistair Lyon)

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