A people smuggler says the UK government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda is no deterrent for his customers. Jane Corbin meets him at his base in Turkey.
As night falls, I climb a creaking staircase to meet with a kingpin in the people-smuggling trade. It has taken months to arrange the meeting and it culminates my investigation into thousands of migrants who end up on the beaches of southern England.
The smuggler is from the Middle East and smartly dressed in black. He agreed to tell me about his business if we do not reveal his identity. The bodyguards watch outside the house.
“We help people and don’t hurt or disrespect them,” he says. He’s breaking the law but does so because it’s worth more to him than the law.
Nearly 2,000 people died from trying to enter Europe as we speak
The United Kingdom of Great Britain signed a deal with Rwanda in April to send single men, who are mostly refugees, back to Africa where they can finalize their asylum claims.
The government’s goal was to destroy the business model of human traffickers and stop record numbers from making the dangerous journey across the channel.
Over 30,000 people have already made the perilous journey in small boats this year. That’s an increase of over 50% from last year.
The people smuggler admits that he earns a lot of money and his business is very profitable. He has the mentality of a businessman, operating in it like one would run any other profit-driven trade.
It doesn’t matter who you are or how many people go, the price will always be the same. A trip to Britain will cost $17,000 total, which converts to about £15,000.
How can he justify putting people’s lives at risk in dangerous sea crossings in flimsy boats?
“Even though accidents can happen, we’re trying to scare people to dissuade them.”
He shows us a disclaimer, which he requires customers to sign acknowledging the risks of donating.
Istanbul is the gateway between Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe – and this black market trade is booming here.
Marketing is competitive. On social media, smugglers offer different rates depending on the destination.
There are fake passports and British driving licences for sale. Even sample questions from British Home Office officials to prepare migrants for a grilling.
The people smuggler collects his clients in safe houses in this sprawling city, which is home to about five million refugees. They are packed into small rooms, where they can wait months while their passage is arranged. His gang brings them food and water from local supermarkets.
“We put them in a house and wait for everything to be prepared. And when it’s ready we take their phones so the cops can’t find out about us,” the people smuggler explains.
Then the migrants are taken in a van at night from Istanbul to the mountains. They walk in groups or six or ten, down to the Mediterranean, to one of the people smuggler’s boats.
They are bound for Greece or Italy.
Jane Corbin investigates the smugglers who get people into Britain, and finds out what the government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda means for those attempting the potentially deadly journey.
The people smuggler denies it, but there have been allegations a migrant died on his boats.
He shows us some videos – dozens of young men crammed on the decks of boats waving, shouting, thanking him. These are not just testimonials, they are proof they have made the crossing.
The money they have paid for the trip is held by middlemen and not released until the families can see they are safe. The smuggler even runs a luxury VIP service for clients who can pay more.
The migrants then make their way through Europe to the shores of northern France and, for some, their ultimate goal – crossing the English Channel to get to the UK. There’s a network of criminal gangs along a 100km (60 mile) stretch around Calais, a franchise operation to help the people smuggler in Turkey get his clients across the final hurdle.
The people smuggler talks about the costs of a dinghy. They can cost $10,000 to $20,000 and there is usually one passenger that gets a free ride in return for navigating the boat.
Human smugglers are still in business, despite the UK government trying to shut them down.
What is the latest strategy to stop people smugglers?
The speaker said that people will continue to visit Rwanda, even if 1,000 people die there each day.