Channel smugglers lower prices and cram more people onto boats | Immigration and asylum

Written by Javed Iqbal

People smugglers have slashed their prices and are cramming more people than ever before into already overcrowded, flimsy boats, The Guardian has learned.

This week, 696 asylum seekers crossed the Channel from France to Britain on a dayinforms the Ministry of Defence.

The increased numbers arriving in overcrowded boats with cheaper crossing prices show that plans to forcibly remove some asylum seekers arriving in Britain on small boats are not working as a deterrent, campaigners say.

Last November, French police cited a price of around £5,000 charged by smugglers for a person to cross the Channel, according to reports in the mirror. Now asylum seekers and non-governmental organizations say prices have fallen to between £500 and £1,000 for a place on a boat.

Until April this year, the government published less detailed data on the number of small boats arriving in the UK from France, but official statistics shows that in 2018 there were an average of seven people on a small boat, in 2019 an average of 11 people on a boat, in 2020 an average of 13 people on a boat and in 2021 an average of 28 on a boat.

Detailed data from April this year shows a marked upward trajectory, with around 50 people a boat on Monday’s crossings, with 696 people crossing in 14 boats.

Although there is some variation in the number of people on board each vessel, the trend has been since the announcement of the agreement to send asylum seekers to Rwanda on 14 April. sharply upwards.

Beginning in May and increasingly in June and July, several days show an average number of people in a single boat in the high 40s or even 50. Thursday 388 people crossed in eight boats – an average of 48 or 49 people in each vessel.

Last year, 28,526 crossed, up from 8,404 in 2020, and this year more than 13,000 have crossed, including more than 8,000 since Rwanda’s policy became announced on April 14.

arrivals of asylum seekers

Official reports has predicted the Rwanda plans are unlikely to succeed, but the government says it is determined to press ahead.

Handa Majed, the founder of the charity Kurdish Umbrella, said there had been a significant change in the way the smugglers in northern France operated since the interior minister announced the Rwanda plans, but she said there was no evidence because that they had acted. as a deterrent. She said the smugglers had simply “adjusted” their business model.

“Initially, after the Rwanda announcement was made, the smugglers were in a panic. So they have halved their prices,” Majed said.

“In this area smugglers are king. They tell people not to worry about Rwanda. Right now the jungle [Calais refugee camp] is full and the smugglers offer much cheaper prices. They maintain their profits by cramming more people onto a single boat. The smugglers adapted to Brexit and now they have adapted to Rwanda again.

“Even if some smugglers are arrested, others will take their place. Their business model will not stop, it will only adapt. They used to put 30 people on a boat, now it’s many more.”

A Syrian asylum seeker told the Guardian that the smugglers had lowered their prices dramatically. “It used to be £3,000 or £4,000 to cross. Now the top price is £1,200 and some asylum seekers are negotiating for as little as £500 to cross. Everyone can afford to cross these days. Some asylum seekers tell smugglers: ‘Why should I pay you £4,000 to go to the UK when I might end up in Rwanda? I’ll pay you £500. Then there’s a deal.’

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A spokesman for the French NGO Utopia 56 said asylum seekers were crossing into Britain more quickly than before, spending on average a few weeks in northern France instead of months as was the case previously.

They said: “The quality of treatment of asylum seekers by the French government is falling every day. In Grande-Synthe [Dunkirk] 500 people live without access to water and more than 1,000 in Calais live on the streets or in small forests. It is left to citizens and NGOs to provide food and health care.

“We see new communities in the camps. Before it was mainly Kurdish, Pakistani and Afghan people. We still see people from these countries, but also from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Vietnam and Albania. The threat from Rwanda has not changed the thousands who cross.”

A government spokesman said: “The rise in dangerous Channel crossings is unacceptable. People should always seek asylum in the first safe country they reach to avoid risking their lives and being in the pocket of ruthless criminal gangs.

“Under our new migration and economic development partnership with Rwanda, we are continuing preparations to resettle those making dangerous, unnecessary and illegal journeys so they can have their claims considered and be able to rebuild their lives there.”

Government sources said they were unable to comment on operational matters.

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Javed Iqbal

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