MADRID (Reuters) - The deaths of at least 18 migrants on Friday during a mass attempt to cross from Morocco into a Spanish enclave took place at a pivotal time for often rocky relations between the neighbouring countries.
Moroccan authorities said the disaster occurred after migrants attempted to breach a fence into the Melilla enclave, with some dying in a crush after what authorities called a stampede, and others falling as they climbed.
Spain retained the enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta, which were previously colonial territories, after Morocco gained independence in 1956.
The following is a timeline of relevant events:
- September 2005: Spain deploys troops to Ceuta and Melilla after about 600 migrants attempt to breach border fences, resulting in at least 11 migrants being killed and hundreds injured.
- Feb. 6, 2015: Fifteen migrants drown and more are injured as 400 people attempt to reach Ceuta by swimming around a seawall from Morocco. A judge in Ceuta later dismisses a case brought against 18 Spanish Civil Guards who fired rubber bullets at them.
- May 17-19, 2021 - Over several days, about 8,000 people swim into Ceuta or clamber over the border fence after Moroccan authorities appear to loosen controls.
The surge in crossings comes days after Rabat expresses anger over Madrid's decision to allow Ibrahim Ghali, the leader of a rebel movement, into Spain for COVID-19 treatment. Ghali leads the Polisario Front which seeks independence for Western Sahara, a territory Rabat regards as its own.
- March 18, 2022 - Morocco reveals that Spain has changed its position on Western Sahara, describing Rabat's autonomy plan for the territory as "the most serious, realistic and credible" basis for solving the dispute.
- April 7, 2022 - Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez travels to Rabat to meet Moroccan King Mohammed VI to mark a "new phase in relations based on mutual respect, mutual trust, permanent consultation and frank and faithful cooperation".
- May 15, 2002 - The Interior ministers of Spain and Morocco reactivate their working group and agree to foster cooperation against illegal migration including through joint border patrols and an intensified crackdown on trafficking networks.
- June 24, 2022 - Some 2,000 migrants storm border fences from the Moroccan town of Nador into Melilla in an incident that leaves at least 18 migrants dead. Human rights groups say scores of injured migrants were left untreated and the death toll is likely to rise.
(Reporting by Aislinn Laing; Editing by Helen Popper)