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400 migrants storm border at Spanish enclave of Ceuta

At least 400 people have broken through the border fence between Morocco and the tiny Spanish enclave of Ceuta
Migrants queue to board a Red Cross bus in El Tarajal, Ceuta, close to the border with Morocco (AFP)

About 400 African migrants forced their way into the tiny Spanish enclave of Ceuta on Friday, authorities said, the biggest group in a decade to storm the walled city bordering Morocco in search of asylum.

The group forced their way through two entry points in the six-metre-high barrier that surrounds the enclave, a local government spokesman said.

Footage posted online by the El Faro de Ceuta newspaper showed dozens of migrants, including men without shoes and shirts, letting off joyous cries of "Spain!" as they crossed into Ceuta.

The Red Cross said it had treated 103 people for minor injuries sustained during the assault, and that 25 had been taken to hospital.

About 20 percent of the group who rushed the gates had not been located by authorities as of midday on Friday, said Spain's interior minister, Juan Ignacio Zoido.

Ceuta along with Melilla, another Spanish territory in North Africa, have the European Union's only land borders with Africa.

They are favoured entry points for African migrants seeking a better life in Europe, who get there by either climbing over the border fence or by swimming along the coast.

The objective for migrants entering Ceuta illegally is to reach a temporary Spanish residency rights centre where they can, in principle, request asylum.

But Amnesty International and other rights groups have qualified Ceuta and Melilla as extralegal territories and denounced police mistreatment of migrants there.

According to local media, four sub-Saharan African migrants drowned on Wednesday after their boat capsized off the Moroccan coast.

A further 34 people including five women were rescued during a joint operation by local police and rescue services, semi-official news agency MAP quoted local authorities as saying.

The inflatable boat had capsized off the northern city of Al-Hoceima, it said, adding the prosecutor's office had opened a probe "to clarify the circumstances of this attempt at illegal emigration".

MORE: Hundreds of migrants breach Morocco-Spain border

In 2014, 15 migrants drowned as dozens tried to swim to Ceuta from a nearby beach.

At the time, rights groups and migrants said Spanish police tried to keep them from reaching the shore by firing rubber bullets and spraying them with tear gas.

In October a group of about 220 people managed to storm two entry points into Ceuta, injuring 35 migrants and three security officers.

"You have to go back to the early 2000s to see numbers like this," the government spokesman told AFP.

Carmen Echarri, the editor of El Faro de Ceuta newspaper, told AFP that Spanish security forces had been overrun as migrants had struck at several different parts on the border barrier, using scissors and cutting tools to get through wire fencing.

"Everyone was surprised" by the assault, she said.

Spanish junior minister for security, Jose Antonio Nieto, announced a visit to Ceuta, where he will brief reporters later Friday.

Some 10,800 migrants have arrived in Spain in 2016, according to the International Organisation for Migration.