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Channel crossings: More than 5,000 people have arrived in UK on small boats in 2024 as record start to year continues

The number of people to have arrived in the UK on small boats has risen above 5,000 by the end of March for the first time.

More than 100 small boats have crossed the Channel this year, according to government figures.

The January to March period of 2024 had already proven to be the busiest first quarter for crossings on record.

Seven boats - bearing 349 people - arrived on Saturday 30 March. That took the total number of vessels to have made the journey up to 105, carrying 4,993 passengers.

Since these figures were released, Sky News has observed enough crossings at Dover on Sunday to be confident that the number of arrivals on small boats now already exceeds 5,000 in 2024.

The uptick in crossings will make Rishi Sunak's "pledge" to stop the boats even trickier to fulfil before the general election.

James Cleverly, the home secretary, sent a warning to the Church of England over the Easter weekend about asylum seekers using religious conversion to avoid being returned to their home countries.

The row has come to prominence following the Abdul Ezedi case, where convicted sex offender Ezedi was granted asylum after a judge accepted he had converted to Christianity.

Ezedi was later the prime suspect in a chemical attack in London earlier this year. His body was recovered from the River Thames after a manhunt.

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 used his Easter Sunday sermon to preach that "evil and pain" must be confronted - "whether it is the evil of people smugglers, or county lines in our schools, or the pain and suffering in a family riven with grief or rage or substance abuse".

He added that the "church is not party political".

Some 26 Church of England bishops - including Mr Welby - sit in the House of Lords as Lords Spiritual.

They have been criticised for opposing the government's Rwanda plan, which seeks to deport all asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Mr Welby said in a debate in January that "we can as a nation do better" - and has said there is "no evidence" to support claims the Church of England is "subverting the asylum system" by allowing spurious conversions to Christianity.

Labour said the latest crossing figures show "there is a major tragedy waiting to happen".