Increasing numbers of Albanians are crossing the Channel because claiming they are victims of trafficking boosts their chances of staying in the UK, a former Border Force head has said.
Tony Smith, an ex-director general of the organisation, said there was evidence that Albanians were being advised by people-smuggling gangs to claim they were trafficking victims as an alternative to seeking asylum –unlikely to be successful coming from a peaceful country.
It explains why nearly four in 10 migrants crossing the Channel during a six-week period this summer were Albanians – three times more than any other nationality, according to a leaked military intelligence report that emerged on Saturday.
Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, is understood to be urgently reviewing anti-slavery legislation to close the loophole being exploited by Albanians and other migrants as a way to remain in the UK.
“Illegal migrants who have travelled to the UK from safe countries have sought modern slavery referrals, which have prevented and delayed their removal or deportation,” said a Whitehall source.
“It is imperative that this system is fixed quickly, and for good. Unless we make drastic reforms, the true victims of modern slavery will continue suffer, with excessive decision-making periods and a system that rewards those who seek only to exploit it.”
More than 18,000 migrants have crossed the Channel so far this year, nearly double the rate at the same point last year.
The leaked intelligence report, covering June to July 12, revealed that of 2,863 people transported by nine smuggling gangs, 1,075 – or 37.5 per cent – were Albanian.
This dwarfed the number of Iranians, the next highest with 373 migrants (13 per cent), 363 from Afghanistan (12.7 per cent), 217 from Iraq (7.6 per cent), 162 from Syria (5.7 per cent) and 163 from Eritrea (5.7 per cent).
Mr Smith said: “The small boats are just another way of getting into the UK for the Albanians. They know they cannot get visas or get past the Border Force officers at Calais – but if they can get to the UK and log these claims of being trafficked, it is another loophole that is being exploited in the system.
“They know they cannot claim asylum, but they are using this ploy that they have been trafficked. It is another barrier to removal which means they cannot be instantly sent back to Albania.”
In July last year, Ms Patel signed an agreement with Albania to return Albanians to their home country if they had no right to stay in the UK.
But Mr Smith said the approach needed to be streamlined, adding: “Albanian migrants should be detained immediately on their arrival. There needs to be a quicker system to determine if they are victims of trafficking rather than just bailing them pending a review by some independent body.”
Although Albania has a high poverty rate, it is a peaceful country whose leaders are negotiating to join the EU.
Gangs working along French coast
A government spokesman said: “The UK Government works with the Albanian government on a range of issues, including signing a historic agreement to remove Albanian nationals with no right to be in the UK in 2021.
“Since then, we have removed over 1000 Albanian foreign national offenders, including some who crossed the Channel illegally to come to the UK.”
The military intelligence document appears to vindicate Ms Patel’s view that the majority of those crossing the Channel are “effectively economic migrants” and “not genuine asylum seekers”.
It also reveals that analysts at Operation Isotrope – the military’s response to the crossings – believe they have identified nine separate organised crime groups working along the French coast.
The gangs are buying huge inflatable boats online from Chinese factories and transporting them to northern France. Two of the gangs – codenamed Dragon and Lotus – are customising the boats by asking Chinese firms to make them bigger so more people can be squeezed on board.
A spokesman for Liz Truss said: “This demonstrates why we need to be more robust in our response to illegal migration. Liz has a plan to expand border force, ensure the ECHR works for Britain, and reform modern slavery laws which are being abused, as we continue to take back control of our borders.
"The need for deterrence in this is key – which is why we will ensure the migration deal with Rwanda works, and look to strike other deals. So those coming to the UK illegally know they won’t be able to stay."