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

Smugglers have lowered their prices and are cramming more people than ever into already overcrowded and fragile boats, the Guardian has learned.

This week, 696 asylum seekers crossed the English Channel from France to the UK in one day, the Ministry of Defense said.

Rising numbers of arrivals in more crowded boats with cheaper crossing prices demonstrates that plans to forcibly deport some asylum seekers who arrive in the UK on small boats are not having an effect deterrent, according to activists.

Last November, French police cited a price of around £5,000 charged by smugglers for an individual to cross the English 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 in 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 show that in 2018 there were on average seven people on a small boat, in 2019 an average of 11 people per boat, in 2020 an average of 13 people per boat and in 2021 an average of 28 per boat.

Detailed data from April this year shows a significant upward trajectory, with around 50 people per boat crossings on Monday, while 696 people crossed in 14 boats.

Although there is some variation in the number of boardings on each ship, since the announcement of the agreement to send asylum seekers to Rwanda on April 14, the trend has been sharply upward.

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

Last year, 28,526 people crossed, compared to 8,404 in 2020 and this year more than 13,000 have crossed, including more than 8,000 since the announcement of the Rwandan policy on April 14.

arrivals of asylum seekers

Official reports have predicted that Rwanda’s plans are unlikely to succeed, but the government says it is determined to move forward.

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

“At first, after Rwanda’s announcement, the smugglers panicked. So they cut their prices in half,” Majed said.

“In this field, smugglers are kings. 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 one boat. The smugglers have adapted to Brexit and now they have adapted again to Rwanda.

“Even if some smugglers are arrested, others will take their place. Their economic model will not stop, it will only adjust. Before, they put 30 people on a boat, now it’s a lot more.

A Syrian asylum seeker told the Guardian that smugglers had lowered their prices dramatically. “Before, you had to cross £3,000 or £4,000. Now the highest price is £1,200 and some asylum seekers are negotiating a price as low 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 risk ending up in Rwanda?” I will pay you £500. Then a deal is made.

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A spokesman for French NGO Utopia 56 said asylum seekers were traveling to the UK faster than before, spending on average a few weeks in northern France instead of months like this. was the case before.

They said: “The quality of treatment of asylum seekers by the French government is decreasing every day. At 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 up to citizens and NGOs to provide food and health care.

“We see new communities in the camps. Before it was mainly Kurds, Pakistanis and Afghans. We still see people from these countries, but also from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Vietnam and Albania. The threat from Rwanda has not changed the thousands of people crossing.

A government spokesman said: “The increase in dangerous Channel crossings is unacceptable. People should always seek asylum in the first safe country they reach, rather than risk their lives and line the pockets of ruthless criminal gangs.

“As part of our new partnership on migration and economic development with Rwanda, we are continuing preparations to relocate those who make dangerous, unnecessary and illegal journeys so that they can have their claims reviewed and can rebuild their lives there. -down.

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