Albanian people smugglers are offering “three for two” deals to cross the Channel so that children can make the dangerous journey for free.
The bands offer small boat packages where families are charged the standard fare of around £ 5,000 per adult, but the child can take the trip for free.
Other human traffickers are offering discounts of up to £ 2,000 for a child on a packed small boat in what refugee charities have described as “extremely worrying” exploitation and Interior Ministry officials have called “shocking”.
This is an increase in the number of women and children making the crossing this summer, which charities believe may be linked to migrants’ belief that families are less likely than single men to be deported to Rwanda to seek asylum. .
Data shows there has been an 80% increase in the number of children crossing the English Channel, with over 1,000 reaching the UK in the first six months of 2022, a figure that was not reached until September. last year.
Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “It is extremely concerning that human traffickers prey on such vulnerable children and suffer exploitation and abuse.
“We know directly from extensive work with Albanian refugees that many young people have been victims of trafficking and are victims of criminal and sexual exploitation.”
In an ad posted on TikTok, a people smuggler offered “trips to England every day. I travel with 15-20 people on the boat. We’re the best.”
Contacted by an undercover reporter and asked the price for two adults and a child, they were told: “£ 10,000 for two people. Free child. The journey is safe, no problem for the child ”.
Another trip promoted with a “100% guarantee, every day, £ 4.5,000”. Asked about the price for a couple with a two-year-old child, the Albanian gang member replied: “11,000 euros (£ 9,500) for three of you. 4.5 euros for an adult and 2K for a child.
“It won’t be a danger to the baby. Take a small bag and put it inside. We took some kids last week. Age from three to four years. Go to Dunkirk. Call me on Whatsapp +44 XXXX XXXXXX. “
When asked, a third gang, offering a price of £ 3,500, replied: “If you pay the money in Albania 4,000 euros for an adult and 3,000 euros for a child. If the money is paid in England, the price will be £ 4,000 for an adult and £ 3,500 for a child.
When asked about the risks to a child crossing the strait, the smuggler said: “No danger. No problem for this part “.
Recommendations of reduced-price offers for disabled migrants
Sources in the Interior Ministry have described the discounts on children as “shocking” and have nothing to do with “humanitarian” concerns but purely for profit. Sources also reported similar offers at reduced prices for disabled migrants.
They say boats are becoming less safe and journeys more dangerous as people smugglers cram more migrants on them. The average number of boats went from 28 last year to 44, showing what official sources say is a “significant increase in [smugglers’] risk appetite. “
They say it is “remarkable” that the tragedy last November, which saw 27 men, women and children drown when their dinghy capsized, did not repeat itself.
Albanians now account for between 50 and 60% of arrivals, which this weekend exceeded 25,000 per year, double the number in 2021.
Le Figaro, the leading French newspaper, reported warnings that smugglers are using migrant children as “human shields” when approached by gendarmes. However, the police guide says they should ignore such threats and intervene if migrants’ lives are at risk.
The document of the Prefet du Nord – the highest local state official – states: “The trend of increasing volume of migrant groups is accompanied by a more violent change in their behavior (throwing bullets, migrants armed with knives)”.
“As soon as circumstances suggest that the lives of migrants at sea are in imminent danger, it is necessary to use all means available to prevent the departure of those who have been exposed, even if migrants use children as human shields. “.