Nigel Farage has been accused of trying to inflame anti-migrant tensions after claiming a small group of people on a beach amounted to a "shocking invasion on the Kent Coast".
The Brexit Party leader made the comments as he posted an unverified video on social media of half a dozen people, some children, getting out of a dingy on a beach.
But anti-racism campaigners and charities pointed out that the people in the video were entitled to claim asylum, and accused the former MEP of needlessly whipping up hostility.
"Farage's comment is completely dehumanising and designed to inflame tension against people in the most desperate situations," Minnie Rahman, public affairs and campaigns manager at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said.
"Nobody would risk their life to make a dangerous journey unless they have run out of options. Those making these crossings are often fleeing war, violence and persecution.
"They have a legal right to have their voice heard when they arrive and they deserve safe and legal routes of entry - these routes are almost non-existent for vulnerable people seeking sanctuary."
Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, added: “These are women, men and children exercising their right to seek asylum in dangerous circumstances that they more than anyone else would much rather avoid.
“Sadly, they remain easy targets for too many willing to exploit their distress and suffering for attention or political gain.
“Tragically, rhetoric such as this will only prolong what it has long sustained – suspicion and hatred towards desperate people in need while perpetuating the very conditions that lead to these very journeys.”
Mr Farage was also widely ridiculed by members of the public on social media for his hyperbolic comments. The North London Anti-Fascist Action Twitter account pointing out that the video was of "a tiny boat half full of kids".
"This isn't an invasion, it's a group of desperate people pushed into a dangerous option by a hostile border regime that puts the lives of innocent people last," they said. "Refugees welcome, migrants welcome. Get in the sea Nigel."
Mr Farage's apparent attempt to inflame tensions comes at low-point in public interest in immigration issues.
While migration often topped polls as a key political issue from 2001 to 2016, since the EU referendum interest has fallen off dramatically.
The number of people mentioning immigration as an issue in a long-running poll by Ipsos MORI fell from 48 per cent in June 2016 to 13 per cent in November 2019. It is currently registering at levels not since since the early noughties.