A young girl wearing Disney-style “Happily Ever After” pyjamas was among at least three children seen being brought ashore as migrants continued to cross the Channel to Britain’s south coast.
A charity described the news as “heartbreaking” as it renewed calls for the Government to establish “safe and legal routes” for those making the dangerous crossing to the UK amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Border Force intercepted five small boats between 1am and 8am on Friday, carrying a total of 76 people.
At least three young children were among the group, according to witnesses.
Pictures show immigration enforcement officials wearing masks and gloves leading women and children ashore in Dover.
One young girl wearing pink Disney-style princess pyjamas – which bore the words “Happily Ever After” – was helped out of a cabin by a woman wearing a mask as an official stood nearby, images show.
The Home Office confirmed there were 55 males and 21 females who said they were Iraqi, Iranian, Yemini, Syrian and Kuwaiti, but refused to say how many were children.
They were handed over to immigration officials and given a health check but were not tested for coronavirus.
In a separate incident, French rescue teams were called out to sea after a group of 16 migrants were thought to have gone overboard.
But by 8am they were all found unharmed, having coming ashore on various beaches near Calais in the northern part of the French coast, the coastguard for the region, le Prefecture Maritime de la Manche, said.
Stephen Hale, the chief executive of charity Refugee Action, said: “It’s heartbreaking that people including young children are having to risk their lives to seek refuge in the UK due to a lack of safe and legal routes to get here.
“The Government must stop talking tough and start thinking smart.
“More routes for people to claim protection in the UK must be created, including a long-term commitment to resettle 10,000 refugees every year.”
The news comes a week after another 73 migrants tried to make the crossing to Kent, prompting the Home Secretary Priti Patel to say she was “determined” to stop illegal Channel crossings, adding: “I will not stand by whilst malicious criminals prey on the vulnerable.”
But her pledge prompted charity leaders to call for the Government to rethink its approach, with one telling Ms Patel to “stop chasing unicorns”.
At least 829 migrants have made it to the UK so far this year, data collected by the PA news agency shows.
More than half of these (at least 451) arrived in the last month, since the country went into lockdown on March 23, PA analysis of the figures indicates.
It is thought almost 2,000 migrants made it to Britain in 2019.
Earlier this week the Home Office announced the UK and Greece had signed a migration action plan, pledging to work together to tackle illegal migration in Europe.
The department refused to provide specifics of the plan, other than to confirm a Border Force cutter would continue to patrol the Aegean.
Meanwhile, Dame Emma Thompson and other stars have backed calls for the Home Secretary to end restrictions which could prevent thousands of migrants in the UK from accessing financial support during the coronavirus crisis.
A video published on social media by the Home Office on Friday said Border Force was tackling migrant crossings “on all fronts” with “enhanced” police patrols on French beaches, using drones to “hunt down and intercept” the crossings while working to “arrest and dismantle the dangerous organised crime gangs facilitating these illegal acts”.
All staff have access to personal protective equipment while working, the video added.