Almost 5,000 migrants have crossed the Channel in 2024

Migrant Channel crossing incidents Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Almost 5,000 migrants have arrived in the UK after crossing the English Channel so far this year.

Some 349 people were detected crossing the dangerous waterway in seven boats on Saturday, Home Office figures showed.

It takes the total for this year to 4,993 according to the provisional data published by the Government.

Before Saturday’s crossings, 2024 had already see a record high in the number of people making the journey in the first three months of a year.

The previous record high figure for January to March was 4,548 in 2022, with 3,793 arrivals in the first quarter of last year.

Home Secretary James Cleverly warned church leaders not to help asylum seekers exploit the system Credit: Gareth Fuller/PA

Rishi Sunak’s Government has promised to “stop the boats”, but 2024 – an election year – has illustrated how difficult that pledge will be to meet.

A key plank of the strategy is the scheme to send small boat arrivals to Rwanda, but the legislation to implement that plan was not passed before Easter because peers inflicted a series of defeats on the Government and ministers did not seek to rush it through before Parliament’s recess.

It will now be considered by MPs when Parliament resumes on April 15, with the Commons likely to undo the latest changes made by the Lords and send it back to the upper chamber.

The latest boat crossings came as Home Secretary James Cleverly stepped up pressure on the church over suspicions asylum seekers were being able to exploit the system by converting to Christianity to avoid being sent back to their home country.

In a message to church leaders at Easter, the Home Secretary said there is a “real difference” between welcoming a new member of the congregation and “vouching for a person in an asylum tribunal”.

His comments came after alkali attack suspect Abdul Ezedi was granted asylum by a judge who accepted he was a Christian convert despite concerns the convicted sex offender was a liar.

Ezedi’s body was pulled from the River Thames last month following a major manhunt launched after he was suspected of dousing his ex-girlfriend with alkali when he pounced on her and her children, aged eight and three, in Clapham, south London, in January.

Abdul Ezedi being baptised Credit: left

Writing in The Sun On Sunday Mr Cleverly said: “Even the church has said they share our mission to stop the boats.

“We have met with the senior church leaders to explain Christian conversion is no guarantee of asylum being granted and we’ve stressed there is a real difference between welcoming new members to a flock and vouching for a person in an asylum tribunal.”

He added: “Allowing people to exploit the system risks detracting from the invaluable work Christians and the church do every day for our society – today of all days.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has previously said there is “no evidence” to support claims the Church of England is “subverting the asylum system” by allowing spurious conversions to Christianity.