People-smuggling gangs circle as migrants return to Calais


After the mass displacement last year of thousands from the notorious makeshift 'jungle' camp near the French Channel port of Calais, where for years migrants gathered while hoping for a clandestine passage to the UK, smaller numbers have begun returning to the zone where people-smuggling gangs are again closing in.

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In the shadow of what was once the notorious Calais "Jungle" thousands of refugees have become living targets for smugglers and human traffickers as their plight becomes increasingly perilous, reports The Independent.

A year on from the demolition of the shantytown, dozens of displaced families are sleeping rough in woodland in the region waiting for their chance to be smuggled into Britain by criminals – often after paying extortionate amounts to guarantee their passage across the Channel.

Hundreds of lone teenagers who don’t have the means to pay are meanwhile increasingly prone to exploitation at the hands of these gangs, who are promising them a free crossing in return for “work” upon arrival in the UK.

The refugees’ desperation is exacerbated by the looming winter coupled with the dearth of any form of state or official aid. Since the UK Home Office ended funding for an anti-trafficking service in the region in April 2017, there has been no state agency tackling the problem, leaving the market “open” to criminals who wish to exploit refugees.

Official figures indicate the number of gangs targeting the refugees in the area since the Jungle was demolished has increased, with 20 smuggling networks having been dismantled by French police since the start of the year – matching the figure for the whole of 2016.

There were just over 8,000 refugees living in the Jungle before it was destroyed, and more than 10,000 at its peak. Following its closure people were transported away from the region to reception centres across France, but in the last 12 months the numbers have been slowly rising again. Between 1,500 and 2,000 refugees are currently sleeping rough in Calais and Dunkirk, according to charities on the ground.

Ari, a Kurdish Iraqi in his late thirties, fled religious persecution in Iraq with his wife and three young children in January after an attack by a terrorist group left his arm permanently damaged. They arrived in France in August after an eight-month journey through Turkey and Europe.

Sitting with his 11-month-old son on a patch of grass in Dunkirk, the former meat trader told The Independent he had paid £15,000 to a smuggler to get his family to the UK, where he said they hope to join his aunt and cousins – the only relatives they have outside Iraq.

Read more of this report from The Independent.

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