A Spanish police officer has been captured rescuing an infant from rough ocean water after 8000 immigrants jumped fences or tried to swim into Europe from Morocco over two days.
Eugenio Ambrosi, the UN Migration chief of staff, posted the image of the cop clutching the soaked baby to Twitter on Wednesday.
“At the border of Europe, yesterday. The darkness continues,” he wrote.
Shocking photos taken amid a deepening diplomatic spat show crowds of people, including some 1500 children and teenagers, struggling in the water while trying to cram into the Spanish city of Ceuta, in Northern Africa.
Spanish police divers can be seen rescuing several small children from the water, and soldiers deployed at the border helped youngsters climb ashore.
Red Cross workers also tended to the endless trickle of migrants emerging from the water shivering and exhausted.
One young man drowned and dozens have been treated for injuries and hypothermia, the Red Cross said.
Some of the children are without families, Spain's Social Rights Minister Ione Belarre’s said.
"We are working to address the issue of children who have come alone," she told broadcaster TVE.
"Many of them did not know the consequences of crossing the border. And many of them want to go back. So we are working to make that possible."
Thousands of migrants returned to Morocco
Reuters TV captured a boy who appears to be 13 years old swimming to Ceuta's beach with a dozen empty plastic bottles tied to his body as floatation devices.
He then tried to climb a parapet before being seized by soldiers who, gently but firmly, accompanied the crying boy through the gate to the security zone between the two countries. It was not immediately clear what happened later.
In other scenes, hundreds of people gathered in the border town of Fnideq, near the frontier with Ceuta, clashed with Moroccan riot police, throwing stones and setting on fire a motorbike and a rubbish bin, a Reuters witness said.
At least 4000 of the migrants have been returned to Morocco, the Spanish government has confirmed.
Morocco and Spain signed an agreement three decades ago to expel all those who swim across the border.
None of the children have been returned because deporting minors is illegal in Spain.
Some of the migrants are sub-Saharan Africans who often migrate to flee poverty or violence at home.
Diplomatic spat between Spain and Morocco deepens
The sudden influx of migrants has fuelled the diplomatic spat between Rabat and Madrid over the disputed Western Sahara region and created a humanitarian crisis for Ceuta, separated from Morocco by a double-wide, 10 metre fence.
Morocco annexed the sprawling region on the west coast of Africa in 1975 but tensions between the country and the local Sahrawi population continue, according to BBC.
Foreign workers were banned from entering Ceuta when Covid-19 outbreaks began to surge last year, but Morocco loosened their border watch this week after Spain granted entry for medical treatment to the chief of a militant group that fights Morocco for the independence of Western Sahara.
Morocco’s foreign ministry has said Madrid’s move to assist Brahim Ghali, head of the Polisario Front, was “inconsistent with the spirit of partnership and good neighbourliness” and vowed there would be “consequences.”
With AP and Reuters
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