How do so many people – more than 44,000 this year alone – know who to contact to get across the Channel, how to go about it and how much it will cost? Like any business, people smuggling relies on word of mouth, a shopfront or digital location on the internet and advertising.
How do they advertise? On TikTok and other online platforms. It’s little wonder that the numbers are this high when it is so easy to find criminal gangs advertising their services in Albanian on TikTok with videos showing cheery migrants with thumbs up on dinghies scooting across the Channel and motoring into Britain with ease. The videos have comments like these (on a rough translation): “at 8 o’clock the next departure, hurry to catch the road”; “They passed again today! Get in touch today”; “Get on the road today, serious escape within a day, not from a month in the forest like most”; “the trips continue, contact us, we are the best and the fastest”; and “every month, safe passage, hurry up”.
But far from being safe, the small boats crossings are harmful, dangerous and connected with very serious crime here in the UK, including modern slavery, the drugs trade and trafficking. There have been a number of deaths at sea. In addition, as the Immigration Minister has said, many people at processing centres present “severe burns that they have received through the combination of salty water and diesel fuel in the dinghies”. Further, we have recently seen a death in the UK thought to be caused by an infectious disease which is extremely rare in the UK but present at migrant camps in Northern Europe. Deaths, injury and links to modern slavery or other crimes affect children and teenagers as well as adults.
That’s why this week in Parliament I tabled an amendment to the Online Safety Bill to ‘tackle the TikTok traffickers’. The new clause will create a new criminal offence of intentionally sharing a photograph or film that facilitates or promotes modern slavery or illegal immigration.
Online platforms enable the global sharing of information to a global market. Nationalities who have used the Channel crossing routes are from an astonishing array of countries – from Eritrea and Vietnam to Iraq and Iran, increasingly Albania and of course the boats come from France.
This new offence I have proposed will ensure that people here in the UK who are advertising and promoting illegal migration and modern slavery will face a stronger deterrent and will, for the first time, face real criminal penalties for their misdeeds. We need every tool in the toolbox to tackle the illegal crossings. These amendments will ‘tackle the TikTok traffickers’ and help prevent people from risking their lives taking these journeys across the English Channel.