Spain has deployed troops to Ceuta to patrol the border with Morocco after at least 6,000 migrants swam around fences to reach the north African enclave.
Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said 200 troops plus an extra 200 police officers were being sent to boost controls at Ceuta’s main entry point, Tarajal.
He said that around 6,000 people, including 1,500 had swam or waded through the shallow water into Ceuta within 24 hours, a record number within a single day.
Footage shown on Spain’s RTVE news showed soldiers in armoured vehicles guarding the beach as dozens of migrants emerged from the water to cross into Spain.
Crowds of other migrants were also visible waiting to cross on the Moroccan side of the fence between the enclave and Morocco.
One person died in Monday’s crossing, according to a spokesman for Ceuta’s government delegation.
Authorities said that adult arrivals were being transferred to a nearby football stadium before being deported back to Morocco while minors would be separated and sent to an industrial warehouse.
About 1,500 adults have already been returned to Morocco, Grande-Marlaska said.
Meanwhile it was reported that Moroccan security forces at Fnideq, the town across the border from Ceuta in Morocco, used tear gas to disperse a large crowd of migrants at the border fence, according to AFP news agency.
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is heading to the zone after cancelling a trip to Paris where he was due to attend a French-led summit on financial aid for Africa.
He vowed to use “maximum firmness” in dealing with what he called “a serious crisis” and insisted that Spain’s “neighbourly relationship” with Morocco must be based on “a mutual respect for borders”.
The latest wave of migrants comes amid heightened diplomatic tensions between Morocco and Spain.
Morocco has expressed anger that the leader of the Polisario Front, Brahim Ghali, is being treated at a hospital in Spain’s Logroño after being admitted under a false name
Polisario has been fighting for the independence of Western Sahara for decades. The territory was occupied by Spain until 1975, when Morocco took control of most of it.
The Spanish government played down the Western Sahara tensions on Tuesday, saying it was a separate, unconnected issue.