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Stopping the people smugglers

Stopping the people smugglers


How can Britain and France stop the lucrative, and deadly, trade in human lives in small boats across the English Channel?

Claudia williams, narrating:

Hi, I’m Claudia, and this is the Sensemaker. 

One story, everyday, to make sense of the world. 

Today, the people-smugglers behind the tragedy in the English Channel. 


So let’s start with that breaking news, a number of migrants have drowned in the English Channel as they tried to make the crossing from France to the UK.

Sky News

Last week, at least 27 people drowned in the waters of the English Channel. 

This could potentially be the biggest number of lives lost in a day for several months now. Back in October last year, four people drowned.

Sky News

An inflatable boat carrying migrants capsized, resulting in the biggest loss of life related to the migrant crisis in the Channel to date.

The dead include two teenage boys, a young girl, seventeen men and seven women, including one who was pregnant. 

What we were hearing last night from the interior minister, it was the equivalent of a “backyard paddling pool”, those are his words, that was sent over the English Channel that essentially deflated and caused these migrants all to capsize.

France24 English

The boats are not especially seaworthy, even for the relatively short crossing from France to England.

And there’s one man who is leading the effort to find the people-smugglers along France’s northern coastline.  

General Frantz Tavart is head of the gendarmerie – or police – in the Calais region. 

And with his officers, General Frantz Tavart patrols 45 miles of coast in an attempt to clamp down on the smugglers putting migrants’ lives at risk.  

He’s accused the British of being “ungrateful”. 

What shows is that the gangs who are sending people to sea in these dangerous crafts will literally stop at nothing but what I’m afraid it also shows is that the operation that’s been conducted by our friends on the beaches, supported as you know with £54 million from the UK to help patrol the beaches, all the technical support we’ve been giving, they haven’t been enough. 

Sky News

French authorities have now arrested five people suspected of people trafficking following the events  last week. 

But who are the gangs running the people smuggling operation?  And how do we protect migrants from being exploited? 


This year alone, at least 25,700 people have made that same perilous journey across the English Channel. 

They want a safer and more prosperous life.  And they want to join family who are already in the UK. 

People smugglers profit from their desperation. 

According to the International Labour Organisation, the ILO,  the business of human trafficking globally generates an estimated $150 billion in profits. 

This industry is run by criminal networks and gangs. The journeys they facilitate generally start through word of mouth.

Typically, a person who needs or wants to leave their country might have to ask around to see who can arrange this – maybe a relative can help, or they know someone who has an acquaintance who can put them in touch with smugglers. This usually happens through WhatsApp and the journey begins. 

One smuggler told Sky News that he makes around 100,000 dollars a year.

Last year, he tells us, he made $100,000. He isn’t ashamed of what he does and he is prepared to risk other people’s lives for money.

Sky News

In some respects, transactions are like any other: “I want something – can you provide it and for how much?”  

At heart, however, they’re anything but.  Migrants are vulnerable to extortion and, according to some reports, torture.

Details about the smugglers who ferried those in the boat that capsized last week are scarce, but one of those arrested had a car registered in Germany… where the boat used had been bought. 

It puts a spotlight on Germany’s role as a hub for people-smuggling. 

The situation is getting worse, with the number of people being trafficked increasing year on year.  

General Frantz Tavart maintains his officers have prevented many boats crossing the channel. 

But clearly their success is limited.  The general says his men are outnumbered.  And he says the boats used to ferry migrants are increasingly overloaded. So, with the problem growing, what can be done?


I also want to say that this disaster underscores how dangerous it is to cross the Channel in this way and it also shows how vital it is that we now step up our efforts to break the business model of the gangsters who are sending people to sea in this way.

Boris Johnson

Those are fine words from Boris Johnson, but what are the practical steps he and other leaders can take?  

In a letter to French president Emmanual Macron, Boris Johnson proposed patrols using advanced technology, including ground sensors, radar, and airborne surveillance.  

Emmanual Macron said it was time for Boris Johnson to “get serious” or be locked out of discussions over how best to curb the flow of migrants.  

The trouble is, focussing just on stopping boats or “curbing” the flow, is just putting a sticking plaster on a much bigger problem.

And squabbles between two leaders are simply a distraction from the government’s failure to deal with the root of the issue.

Namely, the lack of safe and legal ways for people to cross the Channel and claim asylum in the UK. 

Until this option is seriously considered, the smuggling gangs will continue to operate across the Channel – and more lives will be put at risk. 

Today’s story was written and produced by Nimo Omer and Imy Harper.