Sunak pledges to 'break' business model of people smugglers

European leaders are turning a blind eye to tens of thousands of migrants destined for Britain, a career people smuggler has claimed.

Iraqi Kurdish criminal, Ari, said Governments “use” the migration crisis as “propaganda” but after national elections, “the same thing will happen”.

He said France “can stop” the boats leaving and warned migrants have left countries such as Germany and Italy because “they didn’t like it” and “went to the UK”. 

The Daily Express met with the smuggler in Istanbul, where tens of thousands of migrants find criminals to take them into Europe lorries or on boats to Greece or Italy.

In a series of special reports, the Daily Express will detail how smugglers move hundreds of thousands of migrants into Europe from Turkey every year.

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Migrants from Turkey

The Express will detail how smugglers move migrants into Europe from Turkey (Image: HUMPHREY NEMAR)

The network relies upon word-of-mouth, innocuous-seeming cafes, cheap motels and coordinated plots to avoid the glare of Europe’s law enforcement services.

The smuggler, who has been operating in the shadows for over 20 years, said migrants choose harder routes across the continent to France because they believe they will be able to clamber into a “very easy and cheap” dinghies destined for the south coast of England.

The criminal claimed there are “six or seven” boats leaving France every night.

Responding to claims it seems easier to smuggle people into Europe, the career criminal said: "Yes, I agree. It is all because of the English Channel.

“There are a lot of boats from France to the UK. It is easy.

"If 1,000 people use the dinghies, only five people are using trucks. In the trucks, there are sensors. So the dinghies are very, very easy and cheap from France to the UK."

More than 45,000 migrants crossed the English Channel last year and internal assessments by the Home Office predicted up to 60,000 could reach the UK this year. 

More than 7,000 people have reached the UK in small boats this year.

Figures published last week by the EU’s external border agency, Frontex, showed over 64,000 migrants have been detected on two routes predominantly used by smugglers operating from Turkey.

The number of irregular border crossings into the European Union across the Central Mediterranean in the first four months of 2023 quadrupled from the same period a year earlier.

Smuggler in Turkey

The criminal claimed there are 'six or seven' boats leaving France every night. (Image: HUMPHREY NEMAR)

Asked about the Government’s vow to go after smugglers cramming people into the back of lorries and small boats, Ari said:

"The solution is in the hands of the UK and French authorities. Do you think the French Government is not aware of that? They can stop it. It is like a joke. All other countries are getting rid of those people. They are sending them to the UK. They are getting rid of the people. That is the reality. The solution the UK authorities are considering, sending migrants to Rwanda, is not a solution. It costs even more to the UK Government. It costs a lot of money. The solution is within Europe, within your country. Frankly, the UK Government is not thinking about a solution.”

The “Central Mediterranean” route into countries like Italy accounts for around half of arrivals into EU countries this year, with over 42,000 people using this route.

Over 22,500 migrants have crossed into Europe, through countries such as Bulgaria and Serbia using what is known as the “Western Balkans” route.

Organised crime groups are taking advantage of political volatility in some departure countries to increase the number of migrants they smuggle across EU borders.

Asked what he believes the solution to the Channel crisis is, Ari responded with a question: "Why are people deciding not to stay in Italy? Why are they not deciding to stay in Italy even though it is very easy to get there? It is the first country you reach. 

“If you stay for less than a year, you will get residency.

“But why do people leave?” 

The smuggler pointed towards Britain’s black market economy, with migrants able to earn cash and hide in plain sight. 

He also highlighted how illegal migrants detected in European countries, such as France or Germany, have their fingerprints taken.

But this very fact does not act as a barrier to them remaining in the UK, Ari said.


    Michael Knowles

    Home Affairs Editor Michael Knowles (Image: HUMPHREY NEMAR)

    He said: “I believe it is because of the black market”.

    “I think it is impossible to do the same in other countries, to disappear. I will give you an example. 

    “In terms of cost, and the difficulties, Norway, Netherlands, Germany are all easier for people to get to. Why do they refuse?

    “It has happened many times. People went to European countries, they didn't like it and went to the UK. They were almost welcomed. They were not sent back to the previous country.

    “The majority, around 70 percent, want to go to the UK. It is obvious. They can get a job easily, they can work. They can make money easily in the UK.”

    The Home Office’s Illegal Migration Bill will bar people arriving in the UK by small boat to claim asylum. It is currently passing through the House of Lords.

    The smuggler, who insisted he has no involvement in other forms of crimes, warned the number of migrants moving across Europe will soar during the Summer months.

    Ari says he charges migrants between $10,000 (£8,000) and $12,000 (£9,500) to reach Italy by road, to Bulgaria in the back of lorries or by “yacht” to Italy.

    The smuggler claims migrants prefer travelling by boat as it is “one direct route”. 

    Investigators at the National Crime Agency have previously told the Daily Express gangs control different beaches and camps in Northern France.

    Migrants Continue To Arrive At Kent Shores From France

    Over 22,500 migrants have crossed into Europe (Image: Getty)

    Ari said this has led to violence between rival smugglers there - unlike in Istanbul, where criminals of different nationalities all operate alongside each other.

    The Iraqi Kurd said there are smugglers from Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Sudan, Egypt and even China working in Istanbul. 

    But violence does not break out.

    He said: “It is not like that here. But in France, it is happening a lot. But here, it is not.

    "There are a lot of examples. Many Kurdish people, they fought over the area they are in charge of. One says 'this is mine', while another says 'it is mine', so they end up fighting. One of them killed the other.

    “Here it is a free system. Everybody uses their own road, their own system. It is free, it is not only one road. Everybody is in charge of his part of his territory or his part. It is almost free."

    Senior law enforcement officers, ministers and charities have all warned migrants face severe brutality from smugglers who show no regard for those paying thousands to hide in the back of lorries or to climb into small boats.

    Ari insisted he has never “risked” his people amid fears “I would not be able to visit my home town” if any migrants died.

    But he claimed the risk they face has been exaggerated, and compared it to boarding a passenger airliner.

    The Kurdish smuggler said: “On the risk of people, what we hear from the media, from everywhere, that many people died on this road. Sometimes it is not true.

    "Statistically, how many people have died in the history of migration? It is not equivalent to one year's car accidents in Iraq. Many more people die than all of the people in this.

    "It is not always true".

    When told that people would not feel safe in the back of a lorry, Ari admitted: "I cannot say it is safe. But there are percentages of risk.

    "Were you safe when you travelled here by plane? Were you 100 percent safe?

    "I have never had any incidents. If anything happened to my people, I would not be able to visit my home town. 

    "There are two reasons. Here, if something happens, the police and the authorities will investigate and you will get caught. If anything happens to my people, traditionally, I will have a problem back home with their family.

    "They will not forgive me if anything happens to the people I smuggle."

    Asked if he was a “dangerous” man, Ari told the Daily Express: “No. Why are human beings dangerous? No human being should be dangerous. I am not fighting. I am not attacking people or their dignity. I don't force people to pay me. 

    "If I do anything, any work, any service, I get money for this. 

    “It is based on recommendations from the people I have smuggled before, if I did something bad in the past, I wouldn't get anything now. As I have succeeded lots, I get lots of people recommending me.”

    A Home Office spokesperson said: “The unacceptable number of people risking their lives by making dangerous and illegal journeys to the UK is putting unprecedented strain on the asylum system.

    “That is why the government has gone further by introducing legislation to stop the boats and ensure that people arriving in the UK illegally are detained and promptly removed to their country of origin or a safe third country.

    “Illegal migration is a shared, international issue – it is vital that we also work with our European partners to tackle it, whilst cracking down on the criminal gangs who fuel Channel crossings and profit of those attempting to reach the UK.”

    A group of people thought to be migrants arrive on the beach in Dungeness, Kent

    A group of people thought to be migrants arrive on the beach in Dungeness, Kent (Image: PA)

    Comment by Michael Knowles - Home Affairs Editor

    We’ve always heard how vast these smuggling operations are. But to see it firsthand in Istanbul and the intricate way these networks are stitched together was truly remarkable.

    It is important to note that within smuggling gangs, there is less of a formal ‘hierarchy’ that you might find in other criminal enterprises.

    But an 'organisation' still exists. And they spread far and wide.

    As we will detail over the coming days, the coordination required to smuggle tens of thousands into Europe - and towards the UK for so many - is extensive. 

    And that is why Rishi Sunak is right to focus on boosting cooperation with European allies to combat the illegal migration crisis. Because the response must be suitable to respond to the threat.

    The agreement which will see the UK work alongside Frontex is an important first step. Brussels and London will exchange intelligence and expertise to take on the smugglers.

    As our interview with Ari makes clear, there must be close operation between European Governments. Rishi Sunak has sought to repair relations with France and has secured a returns agreement with Albania.

    Extra patrols along the French coast will be pivotal to preventing more migrants risking their lives to cross the busiest shipping lane in the World.

    So many people the Daily Express has spoken to while covering this crisis over the years have said there needs to be “political will”. And for so long, this was seemingly lacking. It does thankfully seem to be changing. European Governments are taking this issue seriously.

    We must be in no doubt, the smugglers are constantly probing for weaknesses, areas they can expose and continue to force people to endure horrific conditions while they rake in unimaginable sums of money.

    The threat is there. The threat is clear. We must make sure our response is strong enough - and united - to prevent more loss of life. 

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