LONDON (AP) — A top-level UK National Crime Agency task force charged with breaking up people-smuggling gangs has determined that hundreds of Britons are working with overseas organized crime gangs to facilitate the trade in people fleeing poverty and war.
Ian Cruxton, director of the task force appointed last year by Prime Minister David Cameron, said Tuesday the smuggling gangs are able to quickly develop new methodologies and routes to cope with increased enforcement and have used social media — and agents in border camps like Calais and Dunkirk in France — to find desperate people willing to pay for what they hope will be safe passage to Britain, Germany, Scandinavia and other countries perceived to be welcoming.
Cruxton and National Crime Agency deputy director Tom Dowdall described a thriving smuggling business that treats people as commodities that can be moved for profit. Here are some of the details they revealed:
WHAT IS THE COST OF AN ILLEGAL JOURNEY FROM IRAQ TO BRITAIN?
The task force says costs range from about 5,000 euros ($5,700) for an arduous and risky overland journey to about 17,000 euros for a "deluxe" passage that includes quality forged documents and air travel.
Some travelers pay for each segment of the journey rather than an overall price. The cost of traveling from Turkey to Greece by sea ranges widely, from 100 euros to 3,000 euros, depending in part on the boat involved. Officials say prices drop when weather is bad.
HOW MUCH IS A SMUGGLER-ASSISTED CROSSING OF THE ENGLISH CHANNEL FROM FRANCE TO ENGLAND?
A bargain basement trip can cost as little as 130 euros, with no guarantee of success, while a so-called "guaranteed" trip is about 8,000 euros and includes high-quality concealment to elude detection. Some migrants have paid as much as 12,000 euros to travel from Dunkirk to England in fast, rigid-hulled inflatable boats. Smugglers are increasingly landing in more out-of-the-way places along England's eastern coast rather than arriving in crowded ports.
HOW LUCRATIVE IS THE BUSINESS?
Few detailed figures are available, but the National Crime Agency arrest in December of a Palestinian suspected of being a gang chief provides some financial information. The NCA says Jamal Owda, arrested in Liverpool, headed a group smuggling roughly 100 Syrians into Western Europe each day. The agency estimates the gang's trade could have made 10 million euros in the past four years by providing transport, housing and forged travel documents.
HOW DOES IT WORK IN INDIVIDUAL CASES?
Officials cited one case in which six men were found on a freight train in southeastern England, hidden inside two containers. They told police they had each paid 500 euros to get on at Calais in France and were sealed inside the containers before the train left for England.
Another migrant found concealed in a tanker truck in southeastern England told police he had traveled from Iran to Turkey, Hungary, Bulgaria, Greece, Austria, Switzerland and finally France by paying $4,000 to various smugglers. He then paid an additional 1000 euros to be placed in the tanker truck for the journey through the Channel Tunnel to England that ended when he was taking into custody.
Others described similar payments.
WHAT'S HAPPENING NOW?
Officials say pressure in Turkey and Greece and the changing European Union response to the migrant crisis is pushing smugglers away from the eastern Mediterranean route toward a route that cuts through the central Mediterranean, with European landfall in southern Italy.