Around 2,500 migrants tried to storm the border separating Spain's Melilla enclave from Morocco on Wednesday in the largest such attempt on record, officials said, but under 500 managed to get across.

Melilla and Ceuta, Spain's other tiny North African enclave, have the European Union's only land borders with Africa, making them a magnet for migrants desperate to escape grinding poverty and hunger. 

"This was the biggest entry attempt we have on record," the Spanish government's local delegation said in a statement, indicating 491 sub-Saharan Africans had managed to cross. 

Video: AFP

The migrants used "hooks" to scale the high fence surrounding the tiny territory and threw stones at police, it added.

"The great violence used by the migrants... overwhelmed the Moroccan security forces who were trying to prevent them from reaching the fence," it said.

Sixteen Spanish police and security officials sustained minor injuries in the attempt, while 20 migrants were treated in hospital for mostly light injuries before being transferred to a migrant reception centre.

"Around 9.30am, there was a huge attempt to cross Melilla's border by a group of about 2,500 sub-Saharan Africans," it said, indicating some had spiked shoes to help them scale the fence.

Most of those trying to cross were blocked by Spanish police. 

Footage published by Melilla's El Faro newspaper showed hundreds of migrants cheering as they raced down a road towards the city.

Many shouted "Boza, boza!" or "victory" in Fulani, a language widely spoken in western and central Africa. 

The paper also said at least a dozen migrants had got stuck on top of the towering fence, with the police using ladders to get them down. 

Flashpoint in Spain-Morocco ties

Melilla and Ceuta are favoured entry points for African migrants seeking a better life in Europe, who try to climb over the border fence or swim along the coast.

Claimed by Morocco, the two cities have long been a flashpoint in diplomatic relations with Madrid insisting both are integral parts of Spain.

In mid-May 2021, Spain was caught off guard when more than 10,000 people swam or used small inflatable boats to enter Ceuta as Moroccan border forces looked the other way.

The influx took place during a diplomatic crisis between Madrid and Rabat over Western Sahara, which has long pushed for independence from Morocco.

Madrid had angered Morocco by allowing the leader of Western Sahara's independence movement into Spain for hospital treatment for a severe case of Covid-19, sparking a  standoff between the two countries.

The unprecedented border breach was widely seen as a punitive move by Rabat.

Last year 1,092 migrants managed to enter Melilla, a 23% drop from 2020, according to interior ministry figures.

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