Problem of migrant crossings ‘to be here for a while’, NCA says

The issue of migrants making the dangerous crossing to the UK in small boats will be “here for a while” despite efforts to combat smugglers, it is believed.

A constant “cat and mouse” game is under way between law enforcement and crime networks who are overloading dinghies with people desperate to reach the UK, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said.

Despite recent blows to smuggling gangs, including an international operation earlier this week, the threat to life is increasing, it added.

Home Secretary Priti Patel has pledged to make the Channel route “unviable”.

Matthew Long, NCA deputy director, said: “We see organised immigration crime as a continuous threat, enduring, resilient, and it’s shown in recent history in mass fatalities in Purfleet and also the deaths at sea that it’s very dangerous.

“At the heart of this is people, and we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that criminal groups, organised groups are exploiting and treating humans like a commodity.

“They are making money knowingly from putting them in incredibly life-threatening situations.”

Migrant Channel crossing incidents
Two Border Force officers attending to a collection of ribs and dinghies (Gareth Fuller/PA)

The NCA has more than 40 operations against organised immigration crime currently running, including some at the top of its priority list.

Raids in three countries on Monday and Tuesday saw 12 people arrested as authorities moved against a suspected network accused of smuggling migrants across the English Channel.

The group had allegedly been buying inflatable boats and engines from Germany and the Netherlands and transporting them to the departure points.

There, they are suspected of teaching the migrants how to operate the boats while charging thousands of euros per person for a place on board.

Officers from UK, Belgian, French and Dutch agencies working together seized ten rubber boats and engines, 158 life jackets and 12 vehicles, as well as about £40,000 in cash.

Ms Patel, said: “I want these arrests to send a clear message to the gangs engaged in people smuggling – we are coming for you.

“Law enforcement and judicial partners here and abroad are working together to pursue, catch and prosecute the criminal networks involved in illegal immigration.

“My commitment to solving this problem is absolute.”

Migrant Channel crossing incidents
Border Force cutter Seeker in the harbour at port of Dover (Michael Drummond/PA)

Meanwhile, a joint UK-French intelligence cell launched in July has been involved in the arrest of almost 100 suspected people smugglers in France.

UK authorities are expecting a drop off in the number of people crossing the Channel by boat as weather worsens in the latter part of this year.

But when pressed on whether increased arrests and convictions of criminals involved in small boats crossings would eliminate the issue altogether, Mr Long said the route had become “more established”.

He added: “I expect it to be here for a while.”

Migrants are paying around 3,500 euros each for a place in a dinghy, according to Steve Dann, director of criminal & financial investigation for Immigration Enforcement.

He told the virtual briefing that costs have fallen from previous levels because boats are being “significantly overloaded”.

He added: “When you see these migrants come in it’s upsetting.

“We see women and children coming off those boats shivering and hypothermic.”

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