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To stop the small boats crisis, we must focus on disrupting the smugglers' illegal trade

3 min read

Deterring people from making a life-threatening journey across the Channel or the Mediterranean is a priority for our Government and others across Europe. 

There is a seemingly insatiable demand from those seeking a better life and determined criminals who do not care about the safety of those that they “sell” that path to.  We know that some steps can help – for example negotiated returns agreements, such as the one between the UK and Albania, do deter many from even trying to make the journey.  But what else can be done?

In my view, the world hasn’t focused enough on the criminals and the money they make.  Breaking a business model is a sure-fire way to break the cycle.  We must turn our focus towards the smugglers and disrupting their illegal trade.

When we tightened up on stowaways in lorries, the criminals adapted their business model and started to use small boats.  More policing of routes will result in smugglers looking to move the boats into longer crossings and attempts that will lead to further loss of life.  We need to focus our attention on the measured steps we can take and work in partnership to stop this with the support of governments across Europe.

As we look to tighten up the controls, we need to look more towards the smugglers who are profiting from this crime.  Many of the people making the crossings are vulnerable to exploitation by human traffickers through forced labour or prostitution, so by disrupting the smugglers we can also disrupt the trafficking and exploitation networks they are often linked to.  Right now, it’s a high-profit, low-risk model – and we must change that balance.

We need to look at the flow of money and insist banks tighten up on their processes across Europe.  Money transfers across Europe need to be better recorded to look at the real financial gain that smugglers make from facilitating a journey – and also to check that when individuals reach the UK, they do not become victims of modern slavery.

We also need to look at the vessels which are coming into Europe en masse.  The majority of those crossing the Channel are using dinghies, which simply cannot withstand the volume of people attempting to cross.  They are inflatables with petrol engines.  When they arrive into this country, we need the legislation to destroy them rather than storing then at taxpayers’ expense.

Another area that would help to tighten up the ability for the French police to stop the vessels is a boat engine registration scheme across Europe.  If every engine had to be registered with a unique code, then we would be able to know where they were coming from.  The French police could stop the vessels before they set sail to review the engine numbers and track all of those involved.  If registration numbers are removed, their vessels could be destroyed.  In this way we will be able to assist the French police in their efforts to stop the risky Channel crossings.

This would require co-operation across Europe but could create an opportunity for this loophole to be closed and could benefit other countries dealing with crossings in small boats.  We need to do everything within our power to focus on the smugglers and hold them to account for their crimes.  These co-ordinated criminals are sophisticated in what they do.  They prey on vulnerable people and sell them the dream of a wonderful life and an easy crossing.  For many who attempt this route they find their dream is a nightmare.

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