The number of people prosecuted for smuggling illegal immigrants into the country in their vehicles has risen by 50 percent this year – to a grand total of 88. Keith Vaz, the chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee has admitted that many more people smugglers operating undetected.
In an answer to a parliamentary question asked by Labour MP Gareth Thomas, the Home Office has reported that 88 people were prosecuted for people smuggling in 2015/16, up from 52 the year before.
But the figures come amid a huge increase in people trafficking across the Channel, driven by the migrant crisis continuing to sweep across Europe.
As many as 5,500 migrants are thought to be camped out in the Calais’ Jungle shanty town, where migrants chance their luck jumping on the back of lorries headed into England; another thousand or so are encamped at Grande-Synthe, 40 km north along the French coastline.
It is not known how many are successfully entering the UK each month, but figures produced by the London School of Economics estimate that there are currently between 417,000 and 863,000 illegal immigrants living in the UK.
“We welcome the increase in the number of prosecutions”, Mr Vaz told the Press Association. “However, based on the number of illegal immigrants who have entered the country, this is only the tip of the iceberg. We need to be tougher on enforcement rather than what we have done before which is to send vans around telling people to leave the country.
“It’s vital we send out a strong message to those who are smuggling people into this country that we will not tolerate such criminality. The best way to do that is to increase not just the number of prosecutions, but the penalties of those who have been involved in smuggling.”
In answer to a related question, the Home Office also revealed that 2,328 employers had been issued with a fixed penalty for employing illegal migrants in 2015/16, up from 1847 the previous year.
220 employers had been issued with between two and four fixed penalties within the year, up from 122 in 2014/16, and 46 employers had been issued with five penalties in the last year, up from just five the year before.
Last year the Daily Mail revealed that British smugglers were offering a service to wealthier migrants, whereby they could buy passage to the UK for £1,500 on the back of a lorry, or £1,200 in a car. The latter was the cheaper option because there is a higher likelihood of being caught.
The mayor of Teteghem, a town near Calais where an informal service for the market had sprung up, responded by seizing traffickers cars to stop them transporting migrants to England or to lorry parks where they could be transferred. The majority of the migrants were Middle Eastern; the Africans were too poor to pay.
“This is a big criminal organisation and the traffickers at the camp have guns and knives. They get furious when the police lift their cars onto a transporter and take them away. But the officers have guns, too, and threaten to use them if the gang members are violent,” Franck Dhersin, the mayor of Teteghem said.
In a measure of how financially successful the smuggling operation is, among the cars seized were Jaguars and BMWs.
Asked why he had come to Teteghem, 25-year-old Iraqi migrant, Adel, told the Mail: “I heard about it on TV in Baghdad. We all know that if we have money to pay, we can be smuggled into England. Everyone is told to come here.
“Every time I get in a lorry, police sniffer dogs find me inside when I get to the port. I get thrown out, but I will keep on trying. I have paid £1,500 to an agent at the camp here. I do not have to pay again, however many times I try. That is the deal.”