More than 200 illegal migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats were intercepted by UK coastguard ships in a single day this weekend as smuggling gangs step up their efforts to profit from the possibility of calm seas and the desperation of migrants to reach Britain.
UK Border Force officials and French maritime authorities did their best to stop and turn back vessels as they left the French coast, overloaded with migrants desperate to make the highly dangerous 40km journey from the Calais coast towards the famous White Cliffs of Dover.
Figures published this week showed 2,200 migrants – around 75 per day – reached Britain this way in June, the highest monthly number on record, reports the i news outlet.
Refugee groups have warned that the summer months are likely to bring a sharp increase in attempts by migrants gathered on the northern French coast to take to inflatable boats after paying anywhere from US$5,000 to US$12,000 to smuggling gangs to arrange crossings.
Criminal networks are making up to US$100 million a year from exploiting migrants desperate to reach British shores.
The smugglers are adopting increasingly audacious tactics to increase their odds of successfully crossing the Channel with their lucrative but expendable cargo.
The difference in fare paid is often reflected in the kind of treatment the refugees get.
Often, the gang will send flotillas of decoy “economy class” dinghies across the Channel to allow high-powered “first class” boats a higher chance of reaching British shores without being intercepted.
They typically use couriers such as taxi drivers to deliver inflatable boats to departure zones, and the migrants themselves to steer the vessels towards England.
IT-savvy trafficking groups now use social media to promote their services while minimising their own risk of capture.
A National Crime Agency spokesman said: “We have worked with partners to remove hundreds of social media pages and posts advertising organised immigration crime services removed from platforms.”
The agency has warned Facebook and other social media giants they must do more to stop crime gangs hijacking their platforms as desperate migrants are conned into deadly smuggling packages.
A Facebook spokesman said: “People smuggling is illegal and any ads, posts, pages or groups that coordinate this activity are not allowed on Facebook. We will continue to work closely with law enforcement agencies around the world including the NCA and Europol to identify, remove and report this illegal activity.”
Dan O’Mahoney, Clandestine Channel Threat Commander for Border Force, said: “We are seeing an unacceptable rise in dangerous small boat crossings because illegal migration across Europe has led to a significant increase of migrants in northern France seeking to enter the UK illegally.”
He said UK authorities have doubled the number of police officers on the ground in France, and set up a joint intelligence cell with the French authorities in Calais looking to disrupt the activities of the international smuggling gangs.
The Home Office has announced tougher penalties for those making or orchestrating crossings as part of its proposed overhaul of the asylum system.
Recent reports say it is also looking into using offshore processing centres for refugees.