Spanish police find migrants hiding in waste on way to Europe

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MADRID (Reuters) - Spanish police in the North African enclave of Melilla rescued migrants hiding in waste containers, including one inside a plastic bag full of toxic ash, as they tried to make their way to the Spanish mainland.

The Guardia Civil force said in a statement it found a total of 41 migrants in the Melilla port on Friday, some of them risking their lives in dangerous hideouts such as an open container with thousands of used empty glass bottles, including broken glass.

The man inside the bag containing ash from an incineration plant was found unconscious. The officer who released him initially thought he was dead.

Police footage showed the hooded man covered with ash, disoriented and trying to defend himself as he regained consciousness after an officer opened the bag.

"The man's life was saved. He was almost dead," a police spokesman said. "He doesn't even know where he is, he is frightened when he sees the officer's knife and the officer has to reassure him and tell him that he is here to help him."

The migrants faced a seven-hour voyage in dire conditions to the Iberian Peninsula. The waste was destined for recycling on the Spanish mainland.

So far this year, 1,781 migrants were found at the security area of Melilla port, while 11,669 migrants were found in 2020.

(Reporting by Emma Pinedo; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Janet Lawrence)