More migrants have arrived in the UK since the start of 2024 by crossing the Channel from northern France in small boats than in any similar period before, latest figures showed Wednesday.

Provisional UK government figures showed that 4,644 undocumented people made the journey -- the highest figure ever for the first three months of any year, when crossings are generally at their lowest because of rough winter seas.

Migration has become a major political issue in the UK as the country prepares for a general election expected later this year.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made "stopping the boats" one of his top priorities, and claimed to be succeeding when they fell by around a third last year.

Any reversal on that could prove politically perilous at the ballot box for the Conservative leader.

There were nearly 30,000 such arrivals in total in 2023.

The interior ministry, known as the Home Office, has reportedly said that smugglers organising the crossings are adapting their methods, using bigger boats and packing more people onto them.

Sunak's government is pushing ahead with controversial proposals to deter cross-Channel small boat journeys by trying to deport some asylum seekers to Rwanda.

The UK Supreme Court blocked the plan over safety fears but Sunak introduced proposals to declare Rwanda "safe" and agreed a new treaty with the east African country to kickstart deportations.

Flights could take off within months if lawmakers approve the draft law.