Authorities grappling with ‘cellular structure’ of people smugglers across Europe

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The National Crime Agency (NCA) has said authorities are battling a “cellular structure” of smugglers across Europe as they try to cross small boats across the English Channel.

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The authority, which leads the UK investigation into the gangs that facilitated the crossing, said a high percentage were organized by “criminal networks of varying sophistication”.

“However, we have also seen self-facilitation by migrants and groups using this method, or by migrants working together informally without OCG. [organised criminal group] participation,” a spokesperson said.


“Unlike other covert methods of entry, many migrants using the small boat method actively seek interception for the purpose of getting into the asylum system.”

The number of small boats has increased due to the decline in freight and passenger traffic during the coronavirus pandemic, the NCA said.

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“Organized crime groups took advantage of this because these forms of crossing required a relatively low level of sophistication,” it added.

“Since then the danger posed by these crossings has increased, with longer stretches of the French and Belgian coast being used for launches, and the use of larger boats capable of carrying more people. Both increase the risk to migrants. Huh. “

Government officials have also acknowledged that efforts to stop smugglers loading migrants on lorries for profit, or asylum seekers from jumping opportunistically near ports, have also had a displacement effect.

The NCA is exploring ways to prevent smugglers from obtaining large canoe-like vessels that they can use in channel crossings and has alerted suppliers in the maritime industry.

Despite the record number of small boat arrivals, the agency insisted that its activity in both the UK and Europe “disrupted a large number of networks involved in this type of criminality”.

“This is an international problem – smugglers are not just targeting the UK,” the spokesman said.

“We continue to generate and share intelligence with international partners, and UK intelligence has been directly responsible for preventing crossings in the UK and abroad and arresting facilitators.”

French police patrol Vimarex, near Calais, the day after 27 migrants were killed attempting to cross the Channel.

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French police patrol Vimarex, near Calais, the day after 27 migrants were killed attempting to cross the Channel.

In a recent operation the French border police in Calais, Le Havre and Paris arrested 18 people who were involved in a gang supplying boats capable of carrying 60 people.

The network will contact migrants in camps on the French coast offering crossings and will charge around 6,000 euros (£5,000) each to reach the UK.

Those involved in the operation included citizens of Iraq, Pakistan, Romania and Vietnam, and what the NCA said has changed from “traditionally homogenous” methods of operations to groups of different races and nationalities working together.

Speaking at a press conference earlier this year, the head of the NCA’s organized immigration crime operations, Miles Bonfield, said investigators were seeing “loose affiliations” between countries.

“It’s not a pyramid type structure where there’s ‘Mr. Big’ organizing all the people smugglers in the UK,” he said. “There is a cellular structure throughout Europe.”

Mr Bonfield said different gangs “may work together for different enterprises” due to pressure from law enforcement or COVID-related travel restrictions.

He explained that the pandemic meant there were “less legal routes that could be manipulated and used by crime groups”, such as flights, the Channel Tunnel and passenger ferries.

Calais. Activists defending the rights of migrants at a meeting outside the port of

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Calais. Activists defending the rights of migrants at a meeting outside the port of

“That’s why we’ve seen some crime groups move people into overly dangerous ways of small boats not being fit for purpose in the world’s busiest shipping lanes,” he said.

Mr Bonfield said the “vast majority” of the organized crime behind Channel crossings occurs outside the UK, but some gang members were in the country.

They include an Iraqi man who was jailed in October after plotting to smuggle more than 100 migrants into Britain in small boats and organize more crossings.

In an address to the House of Commons on Thursday, the Home Secretary said the disaster that killed at least 27 asylum seekers in the channel had strengthened “the determination to stop the smugglers who are trafficked”.

Priti Patel said, “What happened yesterday was a terrible shock.” “This was no surprise, but it is also a reminder of how vulnerable people are put at risk at the hands of criminal gangs.”

It has vowed to “destroy those criminal gangs and tackle supply chains” using the new Nationality and Border Bill, though the effectiveness and legality of its proposals have been questioned.

“The criminals who facilitate these journeys are motivated by selfishness and profit, not compassion,” Ms Patel…


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