The migrants swam from two locations, with some entering southern Ceuta on Tarajal Beach and a larger group entering northern Ceuta on Benzu Beach, a Spanish government spokesman in Ceuta told CNN.
A man drowned in the process, the spokesman added.
In both locations, migrants swam around rocky breakwaters that jutted into the Mediterranean and marked the border between countries. The spokesman said it was a short distance at a time.
Ceuta is an enclave of around 84,000 Spaniards on the north coast of Morocco and is located mainly for migrants trying to enter on European Union soil.
“I’ve never seen a situation like this, it’s unprecedented, I’ve never felt so frustrated and sad,” said Ceuta President Juan Jesus Vivas on Tuesday to Spanish broadcaster TVE.
“This is a chaotic situation, so chaotic that we cannot pinpoint the exact number of migrants at the moment,” he added. “We have to collect everyone who has arrived and distribute them in a certain place so that they don’t just wonder about the border.”
The Red Cross provided migrants with dry clothes, blankets and food on the beach in Tarajal. Charity spokeswoman Isabel Brasero told Spanish TV that the migrants included babies and so far everyone who has made the trip around the breakwater appears to be in good health.
She added that the migrants were likely helped by the favorable weather and the short distance they swam on.
Edge flash point
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Tuesday that he would travel to both enclaves of his country on the north coast of Morocco: Ceuta and the city of Melilla, which is further east.
Sanchez promised to “restore order” and said Spain would “immediately” return all those who entered illegally, as permitted by existing agreements between Spain and Morocco.
In fact, around 2,700 people have already returned to Morocco, Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska told Spanish television on Tuesday.
The Spanish Interior Ministry said in a statement that it is increasing the police contingent in Ceuta. Spain and Morocco recently agreed that Moroccans swimming into Spain must return to Morocco through one of the land border crossings.
The land border between Ceuta and Morocco, several miles long, has a high fence. It is a focal point for the migration of sub-Saharan Africans trying to enter Spain and the European Union in groups.
Ylva Johansson, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, wrote on Twitter that it was “worrying” that so many people, including many children, are putting their lives at risk by swimming to Ceuta.
“The most important thing now is that Morocco remains committed to preventing irregular departures and that those who do not have the right to stay are properly and effectively returned,” she added.
In Spain, more and more migrants have come to the coast in recent months.
Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, says that “more than 1,000 irregular migrants reached the Canary Islands in April, three times as many as in the same month last year.
“Almost 4,500 irregular migrants came to the Canary Islands between January and April, more than twice as many as in the same period in 2020. Sub-Saharan nationals, most of whom claimed to be from Mali and Morocco , made up the largest share of the number of arrivals. ”
CNN’s Arnaud Siad, Vasco Cotovio, Claudia Rebaza, Isa Soares, Stephanie Halasz and Sheena McKenzie contributed to this report.