Migrant smugglers quadruple price of passage across the Channel

Smuggling gangs are getting increasingly desperate as supply of boats diminishes
Smuggling gangs are getting increasingly desperate as supply of boats diminishes - SAMEER AL-DOUMY/AFP via Getty Images

People smugglers have quadrupled the price to cross the Channel after government agencies interrupted the supply of boats.

James Cleverly, the Home Secretary, said the smuggling gangs had adapted their tactics after efforts by the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) and other European law enforcement agencies to disrupt the supply of dinghies, engines and illicit finance.

Government sources said this had hit the gangs’ profits with the price of engines increasing fivefold since March 2023. As a result, the cost for a single small boat journey has risen fourfold from around £1,500 in the same period.

It has seen smugglers cramming more migrants onto the small boats, with one in April massively overcrowded with 112 on board. Five migrants including a seven-year-old girl died.

Provisional Home Office figures show 9,874 migrants have arrived in the UK in 2024 to date after making the journey from France, up 36 per cent on last year and a new record high for the first five months of a calendar year.

“What we have seen is that the smugglers have been adapting their behaviour in response to the pressure we have put on with regards to the supply of small boats, to the supply of engines and illicit finance,” said Mr Cleverly.

“Sadly we are seeing more and more migrants forced onto boats, which is incredibly dangerous, that is why we are determined to break the business model of those people smuggling gangs.”

His comments came ahead of a face-to-face meeting between Rishi Sunak and his Austrian counterpart on Tuesday where they will agree that schemes like the UK’s Rwanda plan are needed to tackle illegal migration into Europe.

James Cleverly, the Home Secretary, says 'we are seeing more and more migrants forced onto boats'
James Cleverly, the Home Secretary, says 'we are seeing more and more migrants forced onto boats' - Joe Giddens/PA Wire

The Prime Minister will meet with Karl Nehammer, the chancellor, in Vienna, with the two expected to agree in a joint statement that sending migrants to designated safe third countries, such as the Rwanda plan, play a part in tackling the Europe-wide issue.

The Vienna meeting comes after 15 EU countries, including Austria, signed a letter calling on the European Commission to tighten migration policy and to look at third-country schemes.

Mr Sunak said the UK was “leading the charge with partners across the continent to meet the challenges caused by intolerable levels of illegal migration”.

“Our disruption of the cruel trade of criminal gangs, together with our Rwanda scheme, are part of a deterrent to stop illegal migration once and for all. It is the British public who should make decisions about who crosses our borders,” he added.

Mr Sunak also announced an additional £25 million for the NCA to sustain – and scale up – its efforts to disrupt people smugglers and their operations.

Targeting Turkey

The money will pay for new equipment and specialist teams to boost its investigative capability, its ability to analyse multiple data sets of intelligence and give officers better kit to disrupt supply chains.

The NCA has targeted Turkey where the vast majority of small boats that set sail for the UK have been constructed in backstreet workshops before being paired with outboard motors shipped from China.

They are transported to Germany, where they are stored, before being dispatched on demand to the French coastline.

Last year, one source estimated that from 80 to 90 per cent of the small boats originate in Turkey before being transported via Bulgaria to Germany.

Under a deal announced last summer with Turkey by then home secretary Suella Braverman, a new centre, understood to be backed by £3 million in UK government funds, was set up by Turkish police.

It was designed to help coordinate joint operations to cut off the supply of boats and boost intelligence sharing on the gangs between UK and Turkish border force and police. More UK officers were also deployed to Turkey.

“We are determined to crack down on those people smuggling gangs, we are determined to operationalise Rwanda as part of the measures to protect our borders and make sure facilities like Wethersfield are no longer necessary,” said Mr Cleverly.