To cross the English Channel, migrants pay smugglers, between 3,000 and 7,000 euros (US$3,380 and US$8,000). The fee also includes a very short-term tent rental in the windy dunes of northern France and food cooked over fires.
Sometimes, but not always, it includes a life vest and fuel for the outboard motor of whatever vessel will take them to the UK.
The people who collect the money — up to 300,000 euros (US$432,000) per boat that makes it across the narrows of the Channel — are not the ones arrested in the periodic raids along the coastline. They are just what French police call “the little hands.”
Now, French authorities are hoping to move up the chain of command. The French judicial investigation into Wednesday’s sinking that killed 27 people has been turned over to Paris-based prosecutors who specialize in organized crime.
To cross the 33-kilometer (20-mile) narrow point of the Channel, the rubber dinghies must navigate frigid waters and passing cargo ships. As of Nov. 17, 23,000 people had crossed successfully, according to Britain’s Home Office. France intercepted about 19,000 people.
At a minimum, then, smuggling organizations this year have netted 69 million euros ($77.7 million) for the crossing — that’s 2 million euros per kilometer.
“This has become so profitable for criminals that it’s going to take a phenomenal amount of effort to shift it,” the U.K. Home Office’s Dan O’Mahoney told Parliament on Nov. 17.
Between coronavirus and Brexit, “this is a golden age for the smugglers and organized crime because the countries are in disarray,” said Mimi Vu, an expert on Vietnamese migration who regularly spends time in the camps of northern France.
“Think of it like a shipping and logistics company,” Vu said.
The leg through central Europe can cost around 4,000 euros ($4,500), according to Austrian authorities who on Saturday announced the arrest of 15 people suspected of smuggling Syrian, Lebanese and Egyptian migrants into the country in vanloads of 12 to 15 people.
The suspects transported more than 700 people at a total cost of more than 2.5 million euros ($2.8 million), police said. In this network, the migrants were bound for Germany.
The alleged smugglers — from Moldova, Ukraine and Uzbekistan — were recruited in their home countries via ads on social media offering work as drivers for 2,000-3,000 euros ($2,250-3,380) a month.
The men handling the last leg are essentially just making the final delivery. If arrested, they are replaceable, Vu said.
Frontex, the European border agency, echoed that in a 2021 risk report that describes the operational leaders as managers who “are able to orchestrate the criminal business from a distance, while mostly exposing low-level criminals involved in transport and logistics to law enforcement detection.”
The chain starts in the home country, usually with an agreed-upon price, arranged over social media. That fee tends to shift over the journey, but most willingly pay extra as their destination grows closer, she said. That’s precisely when the logistics grow more complicated.
Channel crossings by sea were relatively rare until a few years ago, when French and British authorities locked down the area around the Eurotunnel entrance. The deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants in the back of a container truck may also have contributed to a new reluctance to use that route.
One migrant from Sudan, who would only give his name as Yasir, had been trying for three years to get to the U.K.
While shaking his head about the recent sea tragedy, he pointed out that other methods of smuggling, such as hiding on a truck, were also dangerous.
“You could break a leg,’’ he said. “You can die.’’
And as dangerous as the sea voyage might prove, it seemed to many migrants to be safer than other options. The only thing preventing it is the cost, which he had heard was 1,200 euros ($1,350).
“We don’t have any money,’’ Yasir said. “If I had money, I’d go to the boat.’’
On Sunday ministers from France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and EU officials will meet to search for solutions. But, with France and Britain at sharp odds over migration, fishing and how to rebuild a working relationship after Brexit, there is one notable absence: a British delegation.
For Vu, that’s a missed opportunity: “This is transnational crime. It spans many borders and it’s not up to only one country to solve it.” (Source: MSN)