People smugglers could face life sentences under UK Home Secretary Priti Patel’s plans to tackle the number of people crossing the English Channel in small boats.
The news comes after more than 100 people made it to the UK on Friday and Saturday despite chilly February temperatures.
Children wrapped up in winter coats were seen being taken ashore on the Kent coast on Saturday after being picked up in the Channel.
The number of migrants who have reached Britain via the dangerous sea route so far in 2021 is almost double the figure at the same point last year, according to data analysis by the PA news agency.
The UK Home Office said on Sunday that ministers would set out further details about the possible life sentences for people smugglers “in the coming weeks”.
The current maximum sentence for people smuggling is 14 years’ imprisonment, but thereported that Ms Patel is concerned that the average sentence received is three years.
A UK Home Office spokesman said: “Whilst criminal gangs continue to put lives at risk it is right we consider every option to stop their exploitation of people.
“The Government will set out further details in the coming weeks.”
Saturday saw at least 87 people cross to the UK from France aboard small boats, the second highest number for any day this year.
Among those being helped ashore at the port of Dover were children and a person in a wheelchair.
They were met by border officials in yellow jackets and PPE.
So far in 2021 more than 530 people have succeeded in journeying to the UK by boat, despite the dangers posed by the Channel waters.
This is almost double the figure for the same time last year, by which time at least 286 people had reached Britain.
Migrant crossings in small boats surged in 2020, a trend that is believed to have been due in part to lockdown restrictions introduced last March that have made crossings in lorries more difficult.