An individual at the heart of cross-Channel people-smuggling reveals to Sky News that most smugglers choose to settle in Britain, and invest their profits here.
The man, whose identity we will not reveal, provides details on how smugglers operate, how they justify their criminality, their business model, their relationship with the French police and how smuggling could be affected by the government’s plans to send asylum-seekers to Rwanda.
In just a few days, the government is set to publish new laws aiming to stop small boats crossing the Channel, with illegal migration remaining one of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s priorities.
Q&A with people smuggler
This is the first time a cross-Channel people smuggler has agreed to a face-to-face television interview. The man, who is Kurdish, spoke to Sky News in conditions of complete secrecy.
The man, who we refer to as Garmiyani, said: “Three-quarters of the smugglers are in Britain. The money that they make here [in northern France], they invest in businesses there – in Britain. They live there, life is easier.
“Regardless of their nationalities, three-quarters of the smugglers live in the UK. They are happier there. They rent houses under someone else’s name and drive cars without a licence.”
Garmiyani said he knew about the British government’s desire to break the business model of people smuggling and the proposal to send arrivals to Rwanda, but seemed unperturbed.
He said: “I swear even if they send people to the Amazon, people will come to Britain – it’s their wish to go to Britain.
“It will decrease but not to the extent that refugees won’t come to Britain. People will still try. People will still come.”
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He said that smugglers play “hide and seek” with the French police as they try to launch boats from the beaches.
“The police watch them, and they also watch the police,” he said. “Smugglers hide and wait until the police have gone and then they do their job [launching the boats], which takes around half an hour.”
He rejected the claim that the French police were too laid back in their approach, saying “no, that does not happen…they do their job and arrest people.
“It is becoming more difficult… In the past, it was just [migrants hiding on] trucks. Now the police know from which points they send people, so they have identified the locations.”
Garmiyani said that smugglers did not see themselves as carrying out crimes, but rather as operating a business.
He said: “We are working and making money – even helping people. Smugglers don’t see it as smuggling. They see it as another job, like working in a restaurant or a barbershop. Our job is transferring people to the other side.”
He said that migrants arriving at the camps near Calais and Dunkirk would quickly be introduced to intermediaries acting on behalf of smugglers, and would then choose which to go with.
“If there are too many migrants, prices go up. If the numbers of people are low then the prices drop. It goes from €500 to €2,500.”
He also said smugglers would charge different prices depending on the nationality of the migrant: “Albanians pay more, Pakistanis pay more.”
In northern France, smugglers are people of the shadows.
They are blamed for the rising number of asylum-seekers crossing the Channel in small boats. Blamed, too, for the dozens of people who have died in accidents.
In the migrant camps that spring up around the coast they are always mentioned, but never seen or identified. And until now, nobody has been able to sit down and talk to one of them.
Setting up the interview took a long time and required intermediaries, trust and persuasion. And no, we didn’t pay him to talk to us.
He is Kurdish and I would guess he’s aged in his early 30s. He had a curious blend of nervousness and self-confidence. I suspect that there is an art to being unobtrusive to most, but memorable to those that you want to remember you.
He smiled when I asked him whether he would be happy to put a family member on board one of these dinghies. He asked me why I was asking that question here, in France, when “three-quarters of the smugglers are in Britain”.
His assertion was that the boat trip across the Channel was easy compared to these migrants’ other experiences.
The insights were compelling – the prices, the way in which middlemen connected migrants with smugglers, and the grudging respect for the French police.
He left as he arrived – quietly, with no flourish. A handshake, a word of thanks, and he was gone. Apparently, he had a busy evening ahead of him – the winds were low, and the sea was calm. The boats would be launching in a few hours.
He claimed that some cross-Channel journeys are organised by families who club together to buy their own boat and engine, and added that many smugglers waste their profits on “alcohol, drugs and gambling”.
But he insisted that he only allowed boats to leave when the winds were light. He was scathing about others, including the people who arranged the Channel crossing in late 2021 that resulted in the death of 31 migrants.
“Some of the smugglers have no conscience,” he said. “They are mafias, not smugglers, and do it only for the money.
“They know the weather is not good but they still play with people’s lives. That night of the incident was one of those nights.
“The ones who did it – they have no heart.”