EU to probe Spain over rubber bullets fired at migrants

Border crossing between Morocco and Spain's Ceuta enclave (6 February 2014) Every year, thousands of migrants attempt to cross into Ceuta from Morocco

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EU officials say they will ask Spain to explain why police fired rubber bullets at migrants trying to swim to the Spanish territory of Ceuta.

Spain admitted that rubber bullets were fired, but said nobody was injured.

At least 14 people drowned on 6 February as hundreds of migrants attempted to reach the North African enclave from Morocco.

Together with a second Spanish enclave, Melilla, Ceuta represents the EU's only land border with Africa.

As a result the territories, both located along Morocco's Mediterranean coast, have become a magnet for migrants seeking work or asylum in Europe.

Many of those making the dangerous journey come from Eritrea and Somalia.

But in the past year the migrant numbers from Syria have also soared because of the civil war there.

'Very concerned'

The EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmstrom, said she was "very concerned" about Spanish police firing rubber bullets to deter migrants.

She added that the actions of any EU state protecting its borders should be "proportionate", and should respect fundamental rights and human dignity.

"I expect clarifications from the authorities," Ms Malmstrom said in a tweet.

On Thursday, Spain's interior minister insisted coast guards did not shoot directly at people, and that the bullets had not caused the deaths of any of those who drowned.

Chart of migration routes in Mediterranean

The incident happened when border guards began chasing migrants trying to enter Ceuta, in what Spain's El Pais newspaper described as "the first attempt at a mass border crossing this year".

A group of people drowned after they fled into the water to swim to a seawall separating the enclave from Morocco.

Their bodies were later found on a beach in Morocco. All of the victims were reportedly from sub-Saharan Africa.

On the same day, Italy's navy said it had rescued 1,123 migrants from inflatable boats in the space of 24 hours.

They were picked up about 220km (135 miles) south-east of Lampedusa, the closest Italian territory to North Africa.

According to estimates, some 2,000 migrants landed on Italian shores last month, nearly 10 times the number recorded in January 2013.

The true number of migrants who died attempting the perilous crossing is unknown, but in October more than 400 people drowned in two shipwrecks near Lampedusa.

Italy and Spain have repeatedly called for help from other EU states to deal with the migrant influx.

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Mediterranean migration routes
Migration routes map

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