LONDON: People traffickers smuggling migrants across the English Channel are offering a “summer sale” to people wanting to reach the UK, promising safe passage and that “the French won’t stop you.”
The Daily Mail reported on Tuesday that traffickers are advertising trips across the Channel for as little as £1,500 ($1,815) on social media, with talk of limited intervention from French authorities and unusually good weather contributing to an uptick in numbers attempting the journey.
The UK has seen a steady increase in people making the dangerous Channel crossing over the past year, with many coming from Syria and Iraq, but in particular from Afghanistan, following the Taliban takeover of the country in August 2021.
However, the recent swell is also thought to have been driven by large numbers of Albanians — who made up more than one-third of arrivals by boat in the past six weeks — exploiting a loophole in UK asylum law, claiming that although their country is not at war nor do they face persecution, they are victims of trafficking and slavery.
One advert on TikTok said: “Don’t pay £17,800-£18,000. They are passing by every day, it has never been cheaper.” Another showed a group of people holding an Albanian flag smiling in a dinghy crossing the sea.
The price of a journey by dinghy across the Channel has dropped significantly in the past year after previously costing as much as £20,000 per person.
Competition has helped lower the price, with up to nine gangs now known to be operating trafficking routes by boat from France — and fears abound that the UK’s plans to deport people to Rwanda will make it more difficult to cross in the near future.
One smuggler using a TikTok account called @franc_gomone_angli1 told an undercover reporter from The Sun posing as a migrant that the UK’s Rwanda policy had been canceled, and that the country would put asylum seekers up in hotels.
“The French won’t stop you. On the contrary, they will escort you safely until you reach the UK water border,” he said.
“I can give you a number of a solicitor (in the UK) I have used for my relatives. They have managed to secure documentation (permission to stay) for half the Albanians in London.”
He added: “Three months ago one boy was kept in detention for a month, then he was freed by his solicitor. All others I have talked to after they arrived were sent to hotels, then they disappeared. They went to their relatives.”
The former director-general of the UK Border Force, Tony Smith, told the Telegraph: “It may be the business model is struggling to handle new markets like Albania, and may have to do a bit more of this sales pitch to encourage more people to do it.”
On Monday, 150 migrants, including young children and a baby, were rescued in the Channel. More than 500 people reached the UK by dinghy over the weekend, with the total for the year climbing above 18,000. At least 28,526 crossed in 2021, up from 8,404 the year before.
Natalie Elphicke, Conservative MP for Dover, which bears the brunt of the influx, told the Mail: “It’s clear many Albanians coming to the UK in small boats are not fleeing war or persecution — they are economic migrants.
“This is blatant criminality, and it underlines the urgency of getting on with Rwanda and similar schemes.”
Tom Hunt, Conservative MP for Ipswich, said: “It’s so critical that the government gets on and introduces the Rwanda scheme.
“We need to bring this farce to a close. Legislation to bring the Rwanda scheme to fruition should be top of the in-tray when Parliament gets back after summer recess.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel said in a statement: “No one should question this government’s determination to break the gangs’ business model.
“Social media posts promoting illegal crossings are totally unacceptable. We are looking at reforming the system we use to identify victims of modern slavery, so that we can support genuine victims while making sure that the system is not misused.”