‘Summer sale’ for Channel migrants fuels record crossings

·3 min read
TikTok screen grab
TikTok screen grab

A “summer sale” for Channel migrants is fuelling a rise in crossings with people smugglers slashing prices by as much as £1,500 per person, it has emerged.

Social media adverts, discovered on Monday by The Telegraph, saw the traffickers offering “bargain” prices and crossings on small boats that have “never been cheaper,” down from £5,000 to as little as £3,500 per migrant.

The promotions were primarily targeted at Albanians who accounted for four in 10 of the nearly 3,000 migrants who crossed the Channel during a six-week period this summer.

Border Force experts suggested the smugglers may be cutting prices to open up new markets like the Albanians previously unable to afford the charges.

MPs on the home affairs committee have also claimed that gangs may be exploiting the court-enforced delay in deportations of illegal migrants to Rwanda to persuade them to make the crossing now before the flights start.

The disclosures come as another estimated 300 Channel migrants reached the UK on Monday following 513 who the Ministry of Defence confirmed as arriving in Kent by small boat on Saturday and Sunday.

It pushes the current annual total to nearly 19,000, double the number reached by the same point last year, which saw more than 28,000 eventually arrive in the UK.

However, a Home Office source said the people smuggling gangs were offering “false promises” as work to process migrants for deportation to Rwanda was ongoing.

“The gangs are facing tougher action. This is a closing down sale as they are getting scared that the Rwanda policy will take off,” said the source.

The adverts, on TikTok, come despite promises by social media companies to the National Crime Agency to block promotions of illegal smuggling.

TikTok screen grab
TikTok screen grab

One account boasted it had cut its prices from £5,000 in May and June to £4,000 last week. Another account, with 61,700 likes, had dropped from £5,500 to £5,000. One of its videos said: “Hurry Albanians … England is waiting.”

A third was undercutting both with an offer of £3,500. “Prices are a bargain,” it declared. A fourth said: “Don’t pay £17,800-£18,000. They are passing by every day, it has never been cheaper.”

A military intelligence report at the weekend identified nine gangs as behind 2,863 migrants arriving between June 1 and July 12, of which 1,075 (37.5 per cent) were Albanians.

Tony Smith, former director general of Border Force, said: “It may be the business model is struggling to handle new markets like Albania and may have to do a bit more of this sales pitch to encourage more people to do it.”

It is believed Albanians are exploiting a loophole to claim they are victims of trafficking, which means their cases must be considered under UK anti-slavery laws, thus delaying or preventing their deportation. They would otherwise struggle to claim asylum after arriving from a country that has been war-free for 25 years.

The military intelligence report confirmed people smuggling gangs are deploying bigger boats ordered from China, carrying on average 50 people, which could also explain the more aggressive sales pitches.

There are reports of a surge in asylum applications in Belgium by Eritreans, which Border Force officials believe may reflect their fears of being sent back to Africa, through the Rwanda policy, if they took small boat passage to the UK.

‘Break the business model’

Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, said: “Social media posts used by criminal people smugglers promoting illegal crossings are totally unacceptable. This Government is already tackling this deceitful online propaganda, with law enforcement, social media companies and overseas governments.”

She said the UK had a “historic agreement” from 2021 to remove Albanians with no right to be in the UK.

“No one should question this Government’s determination to break the business model of the criminal gangs as every Government department has been involved in tackling the issue of illegal migration,” she said.