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18 migrants die in attempt to cross into Spain's North African enclave of Melilla

At least 18 African migrants died in attempt to cross the border from Morocco into Spain's North African enclave of Melilla on Friday. Photo by Stringer/EPA-EFE/Handout
At least 18 African migrants died in attempt to cross the border from Morocco into Spain's North African enclave of Melilla on Friday. Photo by Stringer/EPA-EFE/Handout

June 25 (UPI) -- Eighteen people died and others were injured when a crowd of migrants attempted to cross the border into Spain's North African enclave of Melilla, officials in neighboring Morocco said.

The migrants died in a "stampede," on Friday as about 2,000 people attempted to cross the border from Morocco, part of a violent 2-hour skirmish between migrants and border officers led to several injuries, Sky News and WION reported.

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Casualties occurred as migrants climbed over the iron border fence, Morocco's Interior Ministry said. According to the BBC, some migrants fell from the top of the fence.

Five died while attempting to climb the fence and another 13 injured later died in the hospital, bringing the death toll to 18, according to WION and Sky News.

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More than 70 migrants and 140 border officers were injured, according to Morocco's Interior Ministry.

It was the first mass attempt to cross the border since Spain and Morocco normalized diplomatic relations in March after Spain supported Morocco's autonomy plan for the disputed region of Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony annexed by Morocco in 1976.

Around 130 migrants managed to cross the border Friday, and some were seen celebrating in WION footage.

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In recent years, migrants' attempts to reach Europe by crossing the border into Melilla and Ceuta, another Spanish enclave, have increased.

A Moroccan Human Rights watchdog told WION the clash between border officers and migrants on Friday was part of a crackdown on migrants since Spanish and Moroccan forces resumed joint patrols around the enclave.

Amnesty International Spain said in a statement on Friday that it saw footage of Moroccan security forces using excessive force, such as beating migrants and refugees with batons who were not resisting authorities, and called for "an independent and exhaustive investigation."

"In border control not everything goes," Amnesty International in Spain Director Esteban Beltran said in the Google translated statement. "The human rights of migrants and refugees must be respected and situations like the one experienced today cannot be repeated. We ask the Spanish and Moroccan authorities to promptly and exhaustively investigate the serious human rights violations that have occurred today on both sides of the border."

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