Hundreds of migrants have been returned to Albania under a "gold-standard" deal with the country, says immigration minister Robert Jenrick.
It compares with more than 12,000 Albanians who crossed the Channel on small boats last year, according to official figures.
Mr Jenrick initially said "thousands" of illegal migrants were being returned to Albania, before clarifying that "hundreds" had been returned since the agreement was signed six months ago.
Speaking to Sky's Sophy Ridge, he said it was still "early days" and that "spurious last minute claims" had held up deportations - but admitted many others were currently in hotels or had absconded.
Mr Jenrick was asked: "How many people who've arrived on small boats have been returned to Albania?"
He replied that "thousands of Albanians are returning to Albania".
Pushed on whether the figure included criminals - rather than just those who had crossed the Channel, he added: "Well, there are hundreds of Albanians who've arrived who have been placed on those flights."
The government said in April that "over 1,000" Albanians had been returned since December's deal.
However, the figure included "failed asylum seekers, foreign national offenders and voluntary returns".
Mr Jenrick called the deal a "gold-standard" agreement that was also "significantly" reducing the number of people trying to get to the UK illegally.
Rishi Sunak and his Albanian counterpart, Edi Rama, agreed in December to enhance cooperation in three areas, one of which covered the fight against organised crime and illegal immigration.
The deal included setting up a joint task force to "manage illegal migration of Albanian citizens to the UK".
Mr Jenrick also told Sky News that a separate deal with France had seen a "big increase in the number of interceptions" of small boats - with 33,000 migrants prevented from crossing.
The prime minister has made stopping illegal migration one of his five pledges to the British people.
The Albanian prime minister told Sky News earlier this year that Downing Street had showed "important signs of regret and embarrassment" over language used by ministers.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman has previously spoken of "Albanian criminals" crossing the Channel and likened the influx of small boats to an "invasion".
Mr Jenrick has also said before that Albanians should be excluded from the right to claim asylum.