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MELILLA, Spain (Reuters) -- Some 500 African migrants charged the razor-wire border at Spain's north African enclave of Melilla on Wednesday, and many of the 65 who got through were injured, the government said.

Hundreds charge Spanish enclave

Wednesday, October 5, 2005; Posted: 8:35 a.m. EDT (12:35 GMT)

MELILLA, Spain (Reuters) -- Some 500 African migrants charged the razor-wire border at Spain's north African enclave of Melilla on Wednesday, and many of the 65 who got through were injured, the government said.

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Border in Morocco
Border in Morocco

It was the latest in a string of assaults in recent days at the crossings from Morocco to Melilla and Spain's other enclave Ceuta, the rich European Union's only land border with Africa.

Five died last week in a similar attempt. News reports said all were shot but it is still not clear by whom.

"You're not afraid, because in Africa you have nothing ... you just keep thinking that you are entering Spain," Keta, a 24-year-old Malian who arrived on Wednesday, said. His hands were covered in gashes and his jeans ripped and spotted with blood from where he climbed over the border fence.

A police officer was also slightly injured in the early Wednesday assault on a fence which is between three and six meters (10 to 20 feet) high.

The new arrivals, their limbs and clothes shredded by the wire and some without shoes, raced to the police station before dawn, hoping to avoid being sent back by registering with police.

They were then transferred to a dusty and overcrowded Red Cross center where some hugged friends who had reached Spain on previous days.

Lasi, a 26-year-old also from Mali, who has spent seven months traveling, had a large bruise on his torso where he said police fired a rubber ball at him.

Compatriot Fagella Berte, was also hit by a police baton.

"When you're at the border, you see the guards, the rubber balls, I didn't want to look at the balls, I just looked at the ground, I was scared," he told Reuters at the Red Cross camp, which has space for 500 but is lodging 1,600 people.

Dozens of young men limped on sprained ankles about the sun-baked camp, fighting flies off their bandaged hands, some too dazed to talk, others breaking into broad smiles as they talked about Spain.

The city's military hospital was treating 39 of the migrants for cuts and bruises, an official there said.

For some, Wednesday's attack on the border was the third or fourth attempt. One Ivorian left home at the end of 2003, has been caught by Moroccan authorities and dumped on the Algerian border four times, but returned each time after a five-day trek.
Increasing security

The storming through the double fence was the second attempt this week by a large group of migrants to cross into Melilla. The tactic, which has become more popular recently, is causing growing concern in Spain which sent hundreds of troops last week to reinforce security.

The government plans a third fence around Ceuta and Melilla, a spokesman said, without giving more details. El Pais reported the new barrier would be like a "metal labyrinth" 2 meters wide and 2.5 meters high.

The EU said on Tuesday it was ready to send experts to Morocco to help solve the immigration crisis.

Hundreds of migrants, many of whom have spent months and even years traveling across Africa, have been living in the woods on the Moroccan side of the 10-kilometer (six-mile) border, waiting to jump the fence.

The migrants -- mostly from west Africa -- build ladders from the trees which they use to scale the double fences guarded by Spanish police and troops and Moroccan authorities.

Spain does not have repatriation agreements with most African countries so cannot send the migrants back. Once over the fence, many get transferred to mainland Spain.

Spain has ruled Melilla and Ceuta since the late 15th century. Morocco claims them both.

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