How do smuggling gangs exploit Channel crossings?

The sinking of a migrant boat that killed 31 people off the coast of France has again raised concerns about people smuggling.

For years, law enforcement on both sides of the Channel have played cat and mouse with criminal gangs as tactics changed and evolved.

But despite millions of pounds spent and dozens of arrests, thousands continue to attempt the perilous crossing, and many pay huge sums to do so.

Fees for a place in a dinghy bound for Britain can vary wildly, with reports ranging from 3,500 to 6,000 euros.

National Crime Agency (NCA) Deputy Director Andrea Wilson said: “We seek to target and disrupt organized crime groups involved in human trafficking at every stage of the journey.

Much of this crime takes place outside the UK, so we have stepped up our effort to share intelligence with law enforcement partners in France and beyond.

One of the aims in the UK and elsewhere has been to disrupt the supply of dinghies and other vessels which could be used in Channel crossings.

The sale of dinghies in French cities has reportedly been banned as kayaks have been withdrawn from sale at a store in Calais.

However, a suspected smuggling gang targeted by police in the UK last year is said to have bought inflatable boats and motors from as far away as Germany and the Netherlands.

Over the past two years, inflatable boats used in crossings have gotten bigger and bigger, now capable of carrying dozens of people – but not safely.

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel and the UK government have repeatedly pledged to make the Channel route ‘unviable’, but the NCA has previously said it is considering organized crime against immigration as a “continuing threat”.

(PA graphics)

Earlier this month, an international operation saw 18 people arrested by French border police in the French regions of Calais, Le Havre and Paris.

More than 100,000 euros in cash and bank accounts were also seized.

The Organized Crime Group (OCG) was involved in providing boats that could each carry between 40 and 60 people, the NCA said.

The network would then organize departures from the northern shore of France, recruiting migrants from the various camps located there.

Ms Wilson said much of the NCA’s work must be done secretly, but added: ‘We know it has an impact.

We continue to seek ways to disrupt the supply of vessels to OCGs that smuggle people and to target those who knowingly do so.

A joint UK-France intelligence cell which started in July 2020 has been involved in nearly 300 arrests linked to small boat crossings, the Home Office said earlier this month.