100 People-Smuggling Gangs Running Illegal Migrant Routes to the UK, Says French Investigator

Asylum seekers wait next to gendarmes during their evacuation from a makeshift camp set along the Canal Saint-Denis in Aubervilliers near Paris early on July 29, 2020. (Photo by Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP) (Photo by CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP via Getty Images)
CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP via Getty Images

A French immigration investigator has claimed that some 100 people-smuggling gangs are running illegal migrant routes across the English Channel to Britain.

Following the bust of a trafficking network in the UK — which was raking in some £1 million per month by offering a “VIP” service to illegal migrants — officials have uncovered a vast network of people-smuggling gangs operating in France.

Speaking to The Times, a senior investigator for France’s national immigration policing unit said that he believes there are about 100 gangs providing safe houses for migrants and hiding speedboats to help launch the migrants in the Channel.

“I’m not talking about the bloke, who knows another bloke who knows a third bloke with a boat. I’m talking about structured networks capable of bringing migrants across borders,” the investigator said, adding: “At a very rough guess, I’d say [there are] about 100.”

The French investigator claimed that the Vietnamese networks are typically the most advanced in their operation, often employing Bulgarian, Lithuanian, Polish, and Romanian truck drivers to transport migrants through Eastern Europe to Germany, stashing them in safe houses along the route, before finally sending them off to the UK.

He noted that the Vietnamese networks are not the only sophisticated operations, however, saying: “I am very struck by the logistical prowess of the Iraqi Kurd networks that have taken control of the crossings in small boats.”

“They are capable of buying boats in Germany, hiding them in France and transporting them to the coast at precisely the time when the migrants have been told to gather at the shore. That sort of operation requires a lot of organisational capacity,” he added.

The revelations come as four people have been convicted in relation to the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants who suffocated to death in a shipping lorry last year.

On Monday, the ringleader of the operation Gheorghe Nica, 43, of Basildon, Essex, and the lorry driver Eamonn Harrison, 24, from Mayobridge in Northern Ireland, were convicted of 39 counts of manslaughter at the Old Bailey. Two other members of the network, who were not involved on the day of the tragic deaths, were also convicted of people-smuggling charges.

Detective Chief Inspector Daniel Stoten said the people smuggling gang, which netted millions during its operation, charging up to £13,000 per head, was “greedy” but “complacent”, adding: “You would not transport animals in that way.”

The victims — all of whom were Vietnamese nationals aged between 15 and 44 years old — died in the back of the shipping container after trying to puncture holes in the lorry in order to breathe.

It is understood that police are still searching for a London-based Vietnamese fixer named Phong and three other men in connection to the smuggling ring.

Last year, the Central Office for the Repression of Illegal Immigration and the Employment of Foreigners Without Documents (OCRIEST) successfully shut down 61 human trafficking networks bringing migrants to the UK. In total, around 300 people were arrested for transporting 4,700 illegal migrants.

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here: @KurtZindulka

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