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Immigrants manage to swim to Ceuta

Authorities unable to prevent 45 men safely reaching Spain in mass effort

A repeat of a tactic first used last summer by illegal immigrants attempting to reach Europe took place on the beaches of Morocco and the autonomous Spanish city of Ceuta on Wednesday, resulting in 45 sub-Saharans, all male, reaching Spanish soil.

The modus operandi of the would-be immigrants is to attempt to use force of numbers to overwhelm security personnel on both sides of the border. Upon reaching Morocco, the immigrants skirt the border fence with Ceuta and then take to the sea to traverse the final meters to refuge in Spain. They know not all will achieve the ultimate objective, but weight of numbers makes the undertaking a more or less 50-50 affair.

On Wednesday, the Civil Guard was called to the frontier at Tarajal beach in Ceuta by local police and witnessed how the immigrants took to the water on inflatable rings to swim to Spain. The Spanish authorities, in conjunction with the Moroccan Gendarmerie, impeded the en masse entrance of 100 or so determined Africans, but 45 slipped through the net and were subsequently rounded up and taken to the holding center in Ceuta.

The Red Cross reported that, apart from a few minor injuries, all the men were in good health.

The latest influx will further saturate the center, which was already bulging at the seams with around 650 people crammed into a facility designed to hold just 500.

The first concerted mass bid to reach Spain took place last summer. The attempts always follow the same route - via the line that divides the Port of Ceuta on the Moroccan side of the border and Tarajal on the Spanish side. The immigrants try to target religious festivals, changes of shift, holidays and foggy mornings when launching their efforts. Therefore, the authorities had been anticipating an effort during Eid al-Adha, or the Festival of Sacrifice, celebrated last month.

In August, the Civil Guard pulled 25 immigrants from the sea as they tried to land at Tarajal on inflatable mattresses. Wednesday's operation brings the number of immigrants rescued by the Civil Guard since the beginning of July to over 380.

Rabat has, since August 2010, refused the return of immigrants to Morocco and at the same time accused Spanish authorities of a "dangerous racist tendency" when dealing with attempted border crossings.

A diplomatic dispute flared up when Morocco charged that Civil Guard officers had beaten Moroccan citizens, including on the Moroccan side of the frontier, and had abandoned eight sub-Saharan immigrants "in a critical condition" on a beach within its neighbor's territory near Ceuta.