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People smugglers use YouTube to teach migrants how to illegally enter UK in refrigerator trucks

Charles Hymas
Teenage migrant in refrigerated truck

Migrants are using social media to teach people how to enter the UK illegally in refrigerated lorries as in the Essex container tragedy, as police chiefs demand tech giants crackdown on the posts.

The illegal migrants are flagrantly posting YouTube videos including a teenager in the back of a refrigerated truck boasting that he is just 40 minutes from England. 

Talking to camera, the shivering teenage migrant says: “I thank God who has helped me but to all of you who think to make the same journey to England, it’s very difficult. We hope God will help us when we go to England, it is hard this refrigerator.”

Another video published on March 2019 on Youtube shows a migrant lying face down on the top of a lorry in a freight park in an unidentified Channel port.

A third shows three migrants laughing and joking under canvas in a lorry as they make a night-time journey into the UK.

People smugglers have also posted “adverts” on Facebook promoting their ability to get people into Europe with Tripadvisor-style feedback comments from “satisfied” customers.

Facebook advert for illegal migration across the Mediterranean

The disclosure follows the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants who suffocated after being transported into the UK in a refrigerated lorry. They are used by smugglers because they can evade detection by thermal imaging equipment.

Tom Dowdall, deputy director of the National Crime Agency (NCA), said: "We think there is an awful lot more the technology companies and internet providers like Facebook can and should be doing to prevent criminals and crime networks from being able to advertise and communicate their activities.

"We believe there is an awful lot more they can do given the tech power and brain power that they have to resolve and solve these problems."

Steve Harvey, a former senior Europol officer, said it made a mockery of Government claims that organised crime was “underground” and that law enforcement needed more investigative tools.

An illegal migrant being brought ashore by Border Force officials after crossing the Channel in a boat

“It is not underground, it is in your face,” he said. "These guys are advertising on social media what they do. Trafficking migrants is trafficking a commodity.  It is not difficult to find. The problem is that we are not proactive enough.

"These criminals are operating in a very comfortable environment where the likelihood of intervention, detection, arrest, prosecution and conviction is rare, limited and unlikely.”

The videos are primarily by Albanians, who are the biggest trafficked foreign national group, followed by Vietnamese, Chinese, Nigerians, Romanians, Sudanese, Eritrean and Indian.

The Facebook “adverts” headed “Road to Europe, Road to Life,” include images of ships boasting “it’s the best option because all its parts are made from iron with a thickness of 12 milimetres. The boat engine is 800 horsepower and its speed 14 miles per hour while it’s empty.”

Posts claimed to be from migrants crossing the Mediterranean include one saying they have been picked up by an “Italian battleship,” adding “Faysal and I are fine and safe. We are arriving tomorrow morning.” Another, however, complains: “There is no [phone] charger in the battleship.”

A video showing a migrant attempting to sneak into the UK

Mr Dowdall said: "Social media is really important to organised crime networks, offering their services to people across the Mediterranean, so offering their vessels to people.

"They are highlighting how reliable and safe they are when they are anything but reliable and safe. It's really an important part of the marketplace that organised crime networks set up.

"Facebook is prevalent but there are other internet service providers, platforms and social media platforms that are used as well.”

The criminal networks generate profits of up to £6 billion a year, said Mr Dowdall, with migrants often paying more than £10,000 to secure illegal entry into the UK.

Mr Harvey said: "We are looking at this from the wrong end. We have had the tools to investigate this but we have not had the resources. It is ironic that we get this tragic case and it becomes prioritised. When it falls off the agenda, there will be something else that requires utmost attention."

Another 39 migrants attempting to cross the Channel in four boats were intercepted and brought ashore by Border Force. The migrants, all claiming to be Iranian, were handed over to immigration authorities. 

YouTube said it did not regard the videos as a breach of its community guidelines, which bar those that encourage dangerous or illegal behaviour.

Videos documenting migration are not immediately violative, unless they encourage or instruct on a dangerous or illegal behaviour.