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Allowing migrants to mass in Calais is fuelling a brutal people smuggling trade

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brutal people smuggling trade

The clearance of the Calais Jungle camp in October 2016 was supposed to spell the end of would-be asylum seekers using the region around the French port town as a base from which to launch clandestine attempts to sneak into the UK. In the direct aftermath of the bulldozing of the squalid shantytown, which for years stood as a monument to Europe’s failure to get to grips with the migrant crisis, French officials declared the operation a success, informing reporters that every inhabitant of the site had been transferred to reception centres around the country to have their applications for asylum processed. But while politicians and senior police figures congratulated themselves on a job well done, campaigners and charities on the ground were telling a very different story, describing scores of migrants, many of whom were children, sleeping rough in and around Calais. More than a year later, the situation not only looks just as bleak, but appears to be getting much worse.

While the French government has managed to prevent another Jungle camp being built over the intervening months, migrants have continued to make their way to Calais in the hope of crossing the Channel to Britain in steadily increasing numbers, fuelling a thriving people smuggling trade that often involves extreme violence that is said to have left inhabitants of the town at the end of their tether. It may have been the case that the destruction of the Jungle camp led to a temporary respite in the criminality associated with the human trafficking gangs that exploit the misery of migrants desperate to pursue their dreams of a better life in the UK, but a recent surge in the number of arrivals in Calais has coincided with an apparent rise in the type of violent incidents that occurred with alarming regularity before the Jungle slum was torn down.

In January, there were believed to be some 1,000 migrants sleeping rough in and around the Calais region, including at least 70 lone children. That figure is reported to have risen sharply over recent weeks after the UK and France signed a border treaty that involves Britain making a larger contribution towards efforts to prevent migrants from attempting to cross the Channel. According to a report from the Observer, the newly-signed treaty raised false hope among migrants that they would have an easier time reaching the UK once they arrive in Calais. As the number of migrants travelling to the town has risen, unprecedented levels of violence are said to have broken out between rival gangs jostling for control of the highly-lucrative people smuggling trade. Last week, a mass brawl broke out between Afghan and Eritrean gangs, resulting in at least five migrants suffering gunshot wounds.

Speaking after the incident, French interior minister Gerard Collomb said: “This is a level of violence that hasn’t been seen before. We have reached an escalation of violence that has become unbearable for people from Calais and migrants. There will be people here at their wits’ ends faced with this increasingly violent presence among a certain number of migrants, who it is plain to see are organised in gangs. I… reaffirm our mobilisation against the smugglers who feed daily violence and brawls.” The problem has become so acute that French police are reported to have deployed an extra 100 officers in and around the Calais area. It is thought the rising level of violence has been caused by an increased rivalry between people smuggling gangs, who are said to be fighting over the growing number of UK-bound migrants arriving in Calais. People trafficking gangs can charge migrants as much as €10,000 (€12,265) each to be smuggled across the English Channel in the back of trucks.

With such huge rewards on offer, it is hardly surprising that the Calais region remains a magnet for violent people smuggling networks that have developed a reputation for meting out brutal attacks to protect their businesses. These groups will continue to prey on migrants all the while would-be asylum seekers are allowed to mass in and around Calais in the hope of travelling on to Britain. Accepting the fact that migrants who reach Calais are typically able to do so thanks to other EU countries failing to fulfil their responsibilities under the Dublin Regulation, which stipulates that refugees must apply for asylum in the first European country they arrive in, the time has come for France, with support from the UK, to take decisive action.

Migrants who travel to Calais in the hope of reaching Britain have typically turned down the opportunity to claim asylum at reception centres in France. By failing to compel them to do so, the French authorities are fuelling an illicit people smuggling trade that is not only hugely distressing to the residents of the country’s northern towns, but immensely damaging to the migrants who are its primary victims. As long as migrants are permitted to make their way to towns such as Calais, people smuggling gangs will continue to enjoy brisk business, which they appear to be more than willing to protect with increasing levels of brutality.

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British gang that built subterranean drug factory jailed for importing cannabis worth £15 million

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Seven members of a British drug trafficking gang have been jailed for smuggling cannabis worth £15 million ($18.4 million) into the UK in shipments of lettuce.

The huge quantity of drugs the Manchester gang sneaked into the UK was smuggled on lorries across the English Channel hidden in consignments of vegetables and kitchen equipment, according to a statement from Greater Manchester Police (GMP).

Once in the country, the cannabis was transported by front companies owned by the gang to locations in Manchester, Bolton and Warrington, where it was stored in multiple lockups.

Members of the gang were also found to have constructed an underground bunker out of buried storage units on a farm in North Wales to house a subterranean cannabis farm.

Police discovered that the gang used bogus businesses as cover for the cannabis importation and cultivation conspiracy, including a fake kitchen equipment firm.

Investigators uncovered the trafficking operation after seizing 177kgs of cannabis with an estimated street value of more than £1.5 million in August 2018.

This led to a series of raids on numerous storage units across the north of England, and the discovery of the underground cannabis factory.

Gang member Michael Harley, who was living in a caravan on the farm where the underground bunker was located, admitted that the construction was built three years previously, but told detectives that cannabis production had been halted shortly afterwards as it was too wet to grow cannabis.

On Friday at Manchester Crown Court, ringleader Scott Byrne was convicted of importing cannabis and sentenced to 13 years behind bars.

Speaking after sentencing, Detective Sergeant Richard Castley of GMP’s Serious Organised Crime Group investigating team, commented: “Thanks to the excellent work of our officers and colleagues on partner forces and agencies, we have managed to bring down a vast drugs network.

“These men were responsible for attempting to import enormous amounts of cannabis into the UK; the sale of which would have been used to further criminal enterprise.

“They even went to the expense of creating a large underground complex intended for cultivating the drug.

“However, the exceptional detective work of our investigation team was able to identify and dismantle this organised crime group.

“Consignments packaged among lettuces or kitchen equipment were intercepted and prevented from finding their way onto our streets.

“Drugs blight communities and ruin lives. Their sale is used to further the activities of organised criminal gangs who have no regard for the safety of the public or the rule of law.”

 

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Transnational crime syndicates flood Southeast Asia to exploit weak regional governance, UN study warns

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transnational crime syndicates flood Southeast Asia

A new report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has cautioned that organised crime networks operating in Southeast Asia are generating record and even dangerous levels profit.

In a study titled Transnational Organised Crime in Southeast Asia: Evolution, Growth and Impact,  the agency warns that recent law enforcement activity in the region and its surrounding areas has resulted in illicit groups altering their trafficking routes while transferring and scaling up their activities in locations with poor governance, partially around border areas.

Synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine have become the most valuable illicit market for crime syndicates active in the Southeast Asia region, partly on account of law enforcement action in China forcing narcotics producers to look for new production bases.

According to the report, transnational organised crime networks operating in Burma in cooperation with militias and ethnic armed groups are manufacturing and trafficking both crystalline and tablet methamphetamine.

The study also reveals that the region has become a hub for the global trade in counterfeit consumer goods and illicit pharmaceuticals, noting that Southeast Asia is a key transit point for illicit tobacco products and bogus medicines.

Elsewhere, the report reveals motorcycle gangs from Australia are relocating to the region in order to set up new chapters involved in drug trafficking, extortion, money laundering and other crimes.

The Australian gangs are said to have moved into the region to set up bases for their methamphetamine and drug precursor chemical operations after coming under increased pressure from police back in their home country.

UNODC concludes that the growing power and influence of organised crime in Southeast Asia is allowing illicit syndicates to use their financial muscle to further corrupt and undermine the rule of law, and that these groups now represent a primary threat to the public security, health and sustainable development of the region.

Speaking as the report was unveiled, UNODC Regional Representative Jeremy Douglas commented: “Organised crime groups are generating tens of billions of dollars in Southeast Asia from the cross-border trafficking and smuggling of illegal drugs and precursors, people, wildlife, timber and counterfeit goods.

“Profits have expanded and illicit money is increasingly moving through the regional casino industry and other large cash flow businesses.

“Southeast Asia has an organised crime problem, and it is time to coalesce around solutions to address the conditions that have allowed illicit businesses to grow, and to secure and cooperate along borders.”

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Colombian man caught with half kilo of cocaine under wig at Barcelona airport

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Police working at Barcelona’s El Prat international airport have arrested a man who was found to have half a kilo of cocaine concealed beneath an ill-fitting hairpiece.

Officers spotted the man after he arrived on a flight from the Colombian capital of Bogota.

They noticed that he was acting in a nervous manner and appeared to be sporting a disproportionately large hairpiece under a hat.

After taking him to one side for a search, investigators discovered a package of white powder that had been stuck to the man’s head underneath the outsized toupee.

The 65-year-old was arrested immediately, and was later charged after tests confirmed that the white powder was cocaine that was estimated to be worth €30,000 ($33,390).

In one photograph released by Spain’s national police force, the man can be seen from the side wearing a wig that protrudes to an unnatural height over the top of his head.

Another shot taken from the front shows the package of cocaine clearly visible beneath the hairpiece.

In a statement cited by the Reuters news agency, Spanish police said: “There is no limit to the inventiveness of drug traffickers trying to mock controls.”

Spain, which is one of the main entry points for cocaine exported into Europe from Colombia, has seen several novel large-scale smuggling attempts over the course of the past year, the majority of which appeared to have benefitted from better planning than the wig conspiracy.

Back in June, Spanish police revealed they had arrested 11 suspected traffickers after discovering a tonne of cocaine hidden inside fake stones shipped into the country from South America.

Investigators released a video that showed officers smashing open the bogus stones to discover 785 packages of cocaine, each of which was estimated to contain more than 1kg of the drug.

Just weeks earlier, police in the country announced they had smashed a South American organised trafficking network that injected large quantities of cocaine into plastic pellets before smuggling them to three specialist laboratories in Madrid and Toledo, where the drugs would be extracted by experts who had been flown in from Colombia.

Last August, Spanish investigators intercepted 67kgs of cocaine that had been concealed inside pineapple skins.

The gang behind the plot had hollowed out fresh pineapples before filling their skins with cylinders containing as much as 7kgs of cocaine each.

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