One of the few remaining "gateways" for irregular migrants into Europe, Spain's North African enclave of Melilla, has been reached by 400 people. Others were beaten back by Moroccan and Spanish police.
Hundreds of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa forced their way across a triple-layer border fence early on Wednesday and into Spain's tiny territory of Melilla. The enclave lies on the northern coast of Morocco.
Melilla's mayor Juan Jose Imbroda told Spanish RNE public radio that part of the fence was "pushed over" as more than 1,000 people from sub-Saharan Africa attempted the land crossing.
"There were waves [of people], they were difficult to stop," Imbroda said, despite efforts by Moroccan and Spanish police to keep them out.
"The pressure was great, a chunk of the exterior fence gave way," Imbroda said. Some of those who managed to cross were treated for injuries at Melilla's already overcrowded immigration reception center, he added.
Wednesday's breach follows demands from Spain's government that the European Union address migration issues more thoroughly.
Spain's state secretary for security Francisco Martinez said he was heading to Melilla to assess the situation.
On March 18, about 500 migrants managed to get across, the largest number since 2005, according to Spanish authorities.
On February 6, about 15 migrants drowned in Moroccan waters while trying to swim to the other Spanish territory in Africa, Ceuta, from a nearby beach.
Rights groups and witnesses accused Spanish security forces at the time of firing rubber bullets at the migrants in the water. Spain's government later banned its guards from using rubber bullets to repel migrants.
Expulsions near Calais
In a separate development on Wednesday, French police began expelling around 650 migrants from three makeshift camps in the northern port city of Calais despite opposition from rights groups.
A group of local activists booed police on their arrival and tried to block their path with dumpsters as scores of riot police with shields and batons moved through the camps.
French authorities said the expulsion was aimed at stopping an outbreak of scabies in the camps that lacked no running water and proper sanitation.
Those sheltering at the camps include Syrian and Afghan exiles.
Election focus on migrants
Immigration and borders featured in political party campaigns ahead of last week's European Parliament elections, which saw far-right anti-immigration candidates score historic victories, notably in France and Britain.
Calais' deputy mayor Philippe Mignonet recently said that between 40 and 50 people were caught each night while attempting to cross the Channel illegally to Britain.
The French city lies just 35 kilometers (24 miles) from the English port of Dover. Ferries run between the two on an hourly basis.
ipj/msh (dpa, AFP, Reuters)