Prices rise for refugees as security tightens at Calais

GMT 20:22 2015 Wednesday ,19 August

Arab Today, arab today Prices rise for refugees as security tightens at Calais

Migrants attend a mass in a makeshift church
Calais - AFP

Prices to smuggle refugees and migrants across the British Channel are rising as security measures are tightened around France's Calais port, police say.

The presence of smuggling gangs is easy to spot in the scattered migrant camps between Calais and Dunkirk, thanks to the constant circulation of luxury cars with British plates.

"In my town, three-quarters of the smugglers are English," said Franck Dhersin, mayor of the small town of Teteghem where a new migrant camp was recently set up.

The police focus on these more organised groups, who get migrants on to lorries in industrial parks and motorway lay-bys before they are loaded on to Eurotunnel trains and ferries.

An Albanian network busted by police earlier this month is estimated to have made 1.4 million euros ($1.5 million) since February, said Anne-Laure Arassus, deputy head of the French police unit tasked with preventing undocumented migration.

The money is thought to be laundered through nightclubs and other businesses in Britain.

Six Albanians were arrested from the network, which is believed to have helped 255 people get into Britain at a cost of between 9,100 and 9,800 euros per person.

The cost of reaching Britain varies depending on the community and the quality of service, from 500-700 euros for an Eritrean crossing from Calais, to 20,000 euros for the "all-inclusive" package from Vietnam, with plane tickets and lodging, Arassus said.

Syrians are seen as wealthier and tend to pay double, since many were lawyers, engineers and doctors before the 2011 civil war broke out, said NGO worker Francois Guennoc.

Of the 19 smuggling networks dismantled so far this year, six were Albanian, three from the Middle East, two from the Horn of Africa, two Asian (from China and Vietnam), two from the Indian subcontinent and four worked for all nationalities, primarily operated by Iraqi Kurds.

- Rising prices -

The job of getting people across the Channel is becoming more difficult, particularly since the onslaught of British media interest in recent weeks.

The port at Calais has become almost completely inaccessible after a four-metre fence was installed with surveillance cameras and barbed wire.

Tougher fences have also been installed around the entrance to the Eurotunnel.

British Home Minister Theresa May is due in Calais on Thursday to announce further security measures and action against the smuggling groups alongside her French counterpart Bernard Cazeneuve.

Such efforts have already pushed up prices for refugees.

"Getting into a lorry cost 500 euros just a few months ago, now it's 800-900 euros because there are so many more police and sniffer dogs," said Guennoc.

Some smuggling networks are abandoning Calais altogether.

A growing number of paying customers are now picked up far from Calais, sometimes "around Paris, but also Belgium or the Netherlands," said Arassus.

New routes are coming into favour, particularly the port of Zeebrugge in neighbouring Belgium, and Ouistreham in Normandy.

That leaves the poorer and more desperate migrants in Calais to figure their own way across the sea -- creating its own cottage industry as some individuals get involved in the smuggling trade to fund their own trip.

"Everything has a price: from phoning a smuggler for 10 euros to cutting a hole in a fence for 100-150 euros," said a humanitarian worker at the "New Jungle" where some 3,000 migrants are camped.

That makes things even more difficult for the police.

"We have the hardest time telling the difference between migrants and smugglers. They melt perfectly into the mass," a local police source told AFP.

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