Migrants are being successfully smuggled into the UK disguised as ferry staff, an investigation has revealed. Belgian authorities have said that the scheme likely requires many people to be ‘in the know’ to make it work.
An undercover reporter posing as an Afghan migrant was told by two unconnected smugglers that they could smuggle him into the UK via the Ostend to Hull ferry, disguised as a waiter. His footage was passed to the Belgian police, but they admitted to being overwhelmed by cases.
During one discussion in a railway station in the Belgian port town, fellow migrants offer to put him in touch with a smuggler named Ajmal who they said had already arranged for them to travel via ferry to Hull.
The following day they arrived in the UK, while the reporter travelled on to meet Ajmal. In a park near Brussels, he is offered a menu of options:
“One is sending people by containers which costs £1,500 and there is no guarantee,” Ajmal said.
“The second way is sending people by big ships (ferries) which costs £6,000. We give them waiters’ clothes then we take them to Hull and then it is up to them where they want to go.”
“The third way is on the speed boats (for) which we charge £8,000 and it’s guaranteed… There is an island, we’ll drop you there.”
As smuggling rings in France are detected, so the smugglers are shifting north into Belgium. In the last twelve months alone, there has been a 1000 percent increase in demand from migrants desperate to get to the UK.
As the reporter travelled around the country he was told time and again of the ferry route, with one migrant who he fell into conversation with on a train to Antwerp also advising him of the route.
The Belgian authorities have admitted that they are finding it hard to keep up with the changing face of people smuggling, as the gangs are increasingly inventing new ways of getting illegal migrants into the UK.
Kurt Desoete of the Belgian Federal Police told ITV: “As a police officer I have to say the situation is serious.
“There is certainly an increase in persons who want to go to the United Kingdom – that’s the challenge [for] the police.
He added: “[The smugglers] are certainly ahead of us… We will try to cope with it but I think the international situation will not be solved in one or two years – so we’re looking at a difficult year.
“We have never heard about people working as staff, or getting over as staff but it is certainly a possibility… I think when you use that kind of modus it has to be very organised.
“There would have to be lot of people involved who are aware of the fact that these kinds of methods are being used.”
Last week two men suspected of being involved in a Kurdish smuggling ring run from Belgium were arrested in the midlands. Sleman Ahmed, 33, was detained in Birmingham, while Shamel Zorab, 37, in Greater Manchester, the BBC has reported.
The two, both Iraqi nationals were wanted by the Belgian authorities, accused of collecting fees from the migrants. The gang is thought to have smuggled twenty people a day into the UK.
Ten others had already been arrested in Belgium in connection with the same ring, and will go on trial there following a joint investigation by the National Crime Agency (NCA) and Belgian Federal Police.
Colin Williams from the NCA said: “We believe this crime group is involved in attempting to smuggle people into the UK on an almost daily basis, and our co-operation with the Belgian authorities on this investigation continues.”