Spain has sent 2,700 people back to Morocco, out of the more than 6,000 who swam from the North African country into the Spanish enclave of Ceuta over the past two days.
Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska confirmed the move on Tuesday, adding that Madrid has sent 200 extra police to Ceuta to reinforce the 1,200 officers currently guarding the border with Morocco.
Spain earlier deployed troops in armoured personnel carriers on a beach near the border in a bid to prevent more refugees and migrants from entering its enclave, which is in North Africa.
Soldiers will patrol the border along with Spanish police, Reuters reported quoting interior ministry sources.
A spokesman for Ceuta’s government delegation said soldiers will also work with the police in sensitive locations within the enclave to maintain order on the streets.
In addition to the 6,000 people who swam to the border, a number which comprised mostly men but included some women and children, hundreds more tried to reach Spain’s other north African enclave of Melilla.
Most of those who made the perilous journey to Ceuta arrived on Monday, marking a record single-day high for crossings. About 1,500 children were among those to enter the territory.
One person died in the attempt, a Spanish government delegation spokesman said.
Spain does not grant Moroccans asylum status. It only allows unaccompanied children to legally remain in the country under the government’s supervision.
Spain and Morocco are at odds over Madrid’s decision to allow medical treatment the chief of a rebel group that fights for the independence of Western Sahara.
The disputed territory has been under Moroccan control since 1975.
Ceuta and Melilla have the European Union’s only land borders with Africa, making them popular entry points for those seeking a better life in Europe.
Every year, thousands of people risk injuries or death while trying to reach the territories by jumping over fences, hiding inside vehicles, or swimming around breakwaters that extend into the Mediterranean Sea.
A 10-metre double fence surrounds the 8km of Ceuta’s south-western border with Morocco, with the rest of the tiny territory facing the Strait of Gibraltar and the European mainland across the Mediterranean Sea.