Spain wants to remove barbed wire from border fences at enclaves

Interior Minister vows to do everything possible so remove barbed wire at gates of Ceuta, Melilla to help reduce injuries to migrants seeking sanctuary in Europe.

MADRID - Spain's new interior minister said Thursday he will "do everything possible" to remove barbed wire from border fences that surround the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, to help reduce injuries to migrants seeking sanctuary in Europe.

The six-metre (20-foot) parallel fences, often topped with barbed wire or coils of razor blades, form part of the Spain-Moroccan border and curve round the two North African enclaves, the only land connection between Europe and Africa.

Surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea on one side and Morocco on the other, the territories are regularly targeted by migrants who try to get inside by climbing the fences -- sometimes resulting in serious injuries.

"I will do everything possible so that the barbed wire at the gates of Ceuta and Melilla are removed," Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said during an interview with radio Cope, adding it is a priority.

"It is not reasonable or acceptable to see people jumping over the fences, we can act before, at the origin", in the countries where migrants come from.

In Ceuta, 25 migrants have been treated for cuts caused by the barbed wire so far this year, including ten who required hospital treatment, according to the Spanish Red Cross.

A 30-year-old Senegalese man lost his life in 2009 after piercing an artery on the barbed wire in Ceuta, according to Spanish media reports which cited a copy of his autopsy.

"We are talking about solidarity, of respecting people's dignity, while controling the migratory flow, one does not impede the other," Grande-Marlaska said.

Last year a parliamentary commission led by the Socialist party, in power since June 1, demanded in vain that the ruling conservative government at the time remove the barbed wire from the two territories.

Watchtowers are also situated along the fences, which are equipped with movement sensors, cameras and spotlights.

Human rights groups have slammed both Spain's and Morocco's security forces for beating migrants during attempts to scale the fence.

They have also criticised Spain for expelling those who make it over the fence, without giving them the chance to claim asylum.

Spain's new Socialist government has offered to take in 629 migrants aboard the Aquarius rescue ship that was stranded in the Mediterranean after Italy and Malta refused to let it dock at the weekend.

Grande-Marlaska said these migrants would be treated "in the same way" as the more than 9,000 migrants who have reached Spain by sea so far this year.

"It will be decided if a person should receive protection or not" by distinguishing between those who have endured "all sorts of calamities" to qualify for asylum, and those who come for "economic reasons", the minister said.