Melilla, Spain Hundreds of destitute Africans rushed Morocco's border with this Spanish enclave Wednesday, scrambling up a razor-wire fence only to yanked back by police. The fifth assault in a week prompted Spain to announce plans to expel the illegal migrants.
"In the coming hours, probably tomorrow or the next day, illegal immigrants will be returned to Morocco," Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said after arriving in Melilla late Wednesday.
Moroccan officers, often accused of turning a blind eye to the flow of desperate people into Spain, earlier in the day kept nearly all of the 500 men from reaching their dream of a foothold in this tiny European outpost.
"There were Moroccan police everywhere," said Abdurahman Seku, a 25-year-old Malian who was one of about 65 who got across. He and other new arrivals said Moroccan officers beat the climbing men with truncheons.
Spain praised Morocco's stepped-up security. Later in the day, Spanish authorities began unrolling concertina wire on the ground between the two 10-foot fences between the only European and African countries to share a land border.
Many would-be migrants journey for months and even years with hopes of getting into Melilla, which is seen as a gateway to work in Europe and an escape from Africa's poverty.
Most of those who make it onto Spanish territory can't be sent back because their home governments won't take them. Spanish law allows them to be held for only 40 days, and they eventually are released to fend for themselves without work permits or residency papers.
Fernandez de la Vega said that the expulsions from the enclaves will be carried out under a bilateral 1992 accord that Morocco never implemented.
Under current Spanish law, those caught entering Spain are allowed to remain if their country of origin has not signed an automatic repatriation agreement allowing them to be sent back immediately or if they have no passport and their nationality cannot be determined.
Virtually none of the countries of origin of the people who have entered over the past two months have similar accords with Spain and refuse to take such emigrants back.