Spain and Morocco meet to discuss border unrest

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero met his Moroccan counterpart Driss Jettou for talks on illegal immigration on Thursday following another night of deadly unrest at a border-crossing between the two countries.

The summit between the two leaders in the southern Spanish city of Seville was to address joint efforts to contain illegal immigration, as well as the situation in the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara.

At least four people died before dawn on Thursday when hundreds of would-be immigrants attempted to storm a border-crossing between Spain and Morocco at the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, located in North Africa just across the Strait of Gibraltar that divides the two countries.

Incidents in recent weeks at Spain’s other North African enclave, Melilla, have left two dead after attempts to storm the fence, with a third body found in unclear circumstances.

Spanish border guards have been called on to repel immigrants’ attempts to scale the fortified border-crossing with makeshift wooden ladders and human rights group have complained about the use of excessive force.

Spain decided earlier this month to double the height of the chain-link fence around Melilla from three to six metres along its entire six-kilometre length.

Earlier this week, Spanish secretary of state for immigration, Consuelo Rumi, praised Morocco for its efforts to stem the flow of illegal immigrants, which she said had helped to reduce by a third the number of makeshift vessels intercepted last year off the Spanish coast.

But the disturbances at Melilla and Ceuta have revived debate with Morocco about the battle against illegal immigration.

The North African country is a transit point for sub-Saharan Africans hoping for access to Europe, but Morocco considers that European Union states do too little to help it manage the problem.

Rabat would like to see Spain and the European Union conclude agreements which would see refused immigrants repatriated directly to their country of origin.

Morocco and Spain are also likely to insist that all countries have a responsibility in fighting illegal immigration at its source: a lack of economic opportunities in many poor countries that can only be solved through development. - AFP

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