British border officials intercepted 28 migrants in the English Channel on Sunday as the coronavirus pandemic failed to deter illegal crossings.
Twenty-four males and four females were found on three vessels on Sunday morning, though the British Home Office did not provide details of how many of them were children.
The people were brought ashore in Dover, south-east England, before being interviewed by immigration officials.
The first three migrants found in a kayak at 7.40am all said they were Syrian.
Half an hour later, another a dinghy was intercepted carrying 16 people – 12 of them said they were Iranian citizens, two said they were Kuwaiti, along with one Iraqi and one Ethiopian.
Nine Sudanese citizens were also intercepted on a dinghy arriving at 11.30am.
The migrants had left “a safe country” – France – the Home Office said, saying that British officials would return them “when appropriate”.
The Home Office added that the coronavirus pandemic had “no impact on our operational response to small boat incidents”.
The Minister for Immigration Compliance and the Courts, Chris Philp, said: “We, using all the skills of Border Force, the National Crime Agency, Immigration Enforcement and French law enforcement, are determined to dismantle these ruthless criminal gangs who facilitate these crossings and put people’s lives in danger, and bring them to justice.”
“Over the last two months the French stopped over 1,000 migrants from making this perilous journey, and just last week we jailed two people smugglers.
“The prime minister and President Macron have welcomed the ongoing co-operation between the UK and France on small boats and illegal migration, and we continue to work tirelessly with our French counterparts to combat this.”
Senior UK and French officials met earlier this month to address illegal migration. Both nations have reaffirmed their commitment to tackling illegal crossings and pursuing the smugglers involved.
Last month the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, spoke to her French counterpart, Christophe Castaner. The two ministers agreed to increase deployment of forces, with adequate equipment, on the French coast, with UK financial support. They also agreed to return migrant boats at sea to France when possible and improved co-operation and intelligence-sharing to tackle organised criminal gangs.
Last year, British immigration enforcement made 418 arrests, leading to 203 convictions. Of these, 259 arrests and 101 convictions were people smuggling.
This year 21 people smugglers have been convicted and jailed as a result of immigration enforcement investigations. France is also bringing people to justice, with two people jailed for small-boat facilitation this month.