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People smuggler rails against EU intervention

People smuggler 'Deboor' said Europe would not be able to stop the illegal crossings
Image: People smuggler ‘Deboor’ said Europe would not be able to stop the illegal crossings

Alex Rossi

Middle East Correspondent

Alex Rossi

A Libyan people smuggler – responsible for helping transport thousands of migrants to Italy – has told Sky News that Europe can do nothing to stop the flow of human traffic across the Mediterranean.

In an exclusive interview the smuggler revealed that he makes tens of thousands of pounds exploiting Libya’s lack of security to get migrants to Italy.

That’s despite European nations, including Britain, hailing recent efforts by the coastguard and security forces to crack down on illegal crossings.

We meet the smuggler in a lawless area outside Tripoli. It’s a neighbourhood run by one of Libya’s smuggling mafias.

Setting up the interview has taken days of negotiations and when we meet our man who’s known as ‘Deboor’ he is clearly on edge.

Migrants and refugees panic as they fall in the water during a rescue operation of the Topaz Responder rescue ship run by Maltese NGO Moas and Italian Red Cross, off the Libyan coast in the Mediterranean Sea, on November 3, 2016. / AFP / ANDREAS SOLARO (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: The Libyan authorities are trying to crackdown on the illegal routes

The interview is conducted on condition of anonymity.

‘Deboor’ tells me he helped more than 3,000 Africans reach Italy last month, making around £40,000. The sums of money changing hands are huge he tells me.

“My job is taking people from Africa through areas like Bani Walid and Sabrata, we get them onto boats and transport them from these areas to the sea,” he says.

“In terms of my income it depends. Some people I get paid 1,000 dinars ($870) others 2,000 dinars ($1740). It depends on their nationality.”

He also says Europe will never be able to stop the problem whilst Libya remains in a state of virtual civil war.

The country is controlled by rival militias and is split between rival governments.

People smuggler

It is hard to enforce the law and because of that smuggling gangs like his flourish doing pretty much as they please.

“The security situation here (in Libya) is weak so people from Africa wanting to go Europe can move easily. You can’t say exactly how many people are leaving but it could reach more than 2,000 people in a week. It depends on the conditions at sea,” he says.

The interview ends suddenly. It’s too dangerous to continue he says then leaves.

We can hear the rattle of gunfire in the distance.

It isn’t clear who’s firing but he’s afraid because the smuggling business is vicious with fights and mafia style hits frequently breaking out between rival gangs.

The Libyan authorities are trying to crackdown on the illegal routes. They are under enormous pressure from the EU, particularly Italy, which is the arrival point in Europe for many of the illegal migrants.

Thousands have made the crossing from Libya to Italy despite safety fears
Image: Thousands have made the crossing from Libya to Italy despite safety fears

We were told by a number of different sources that Italy is now paying Libya to stop the smuggling but this has led to armed conflict between different militias.

While we were there, there were furious clashes in and around Sabratha – the smuggling epicentre.

The problem Libya has is that the rule of law is weak because the state is almost non existent.

Libya may have got rid of Colonel Gadaffi but the revolution which promised so much has failed to deliver stability or security.

There is still no proper government.

It is perhaps unsurprising then that in some areas on the coast smuggling is estimated to make up more than 50% of the local economy.

MOAS rescues migrants off Libya
Image: The people smuggler said Europe would not be able to solve the problem while Libya is on the verge of civil war

We went on a patrol with the coastguard.

Its vessels have seen better days and are ill equipped to deal with this crisis.

Colonel Abujela Abdulbari said crossings have slowed because the smugglers are at war.

He also said by placing themselves 12 miles off the coast, European NGOs are making the problem worse.

“This is encouraging people to cross the sea a lot,” he says.

“The trip to Lampedusa used to take 35 hours, now it takes just four hours to reach the charities who are operating like a taxi service.”

Our voyage ended when rough seas in the middle of the night forced us to turn back to port – it shows just how difficult it is to police the coastline.

But despite the dangers more people are trying to cross to Italy everyday – Libya and Europe’s migrant crisis will continue.

But whatever the dangers and consequences, the smugglers say the tide of human traffic will keep on coming.

There will always be demand for their services whilst poverty and conflict afflict so many African countries.

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    Calais migration crisis is ‘half UK’s problem’

    Migrants in Calais
    Image: About 700 migrants are still thought to be in the Calais region

    The French interior minister has told Sky News the migration crisis in northern France is the UK’s problem as much as it is France’s.

    Gerard Collomb was speaking as he visited Calais – the focal point for migrants – with French President Emmanuel Macron, and ahead of a key Anglo-French summit in London on Thursday.

    “It’s a problem between France and Great Britain,” Mr Collomb said.

    “It’s not just our problem or your problem but we have the same problem with immigration and, as the President said, we must welcome refugees but not welcome all the world.

    “We work together and when we will go (to) London after tomorrow we will talk about that.”

    Speaking to police and security forces in the town, Mr Macron said: “I am here in front of you, two days before a Franco-British summit.

    France's interior minister Gerard Collomb
    Image: France’s interior minister, Gerard Collomb

    “And it is essential to come and experience the reality that you have been living for several months, several years, and to draw the consequences and convey in 48 hours, with Theresa May, several issues that we need to work on in our common management.

    “We must better manage the issue of unaccompanied minors, reinforce the police cooperation in Calais and with the countries of origin and transit, unblock funds to support important projects for the development of the Calais people.”

    Local charities estimate that nearly 1,000 people are still camped out in northern France desperately hoping to get into Britain, despite the demolition of the Calais jungle 15 months ago.

    Francois Macron in Calais
    Image: Francois Macron was warmly received by the people of Calais

    Just hours before the President and interior minister arrived, Sky News witnessed the daily attempt by some of the young migrants to access trucks bound for the UK.

    The demolition of the notorious jungle camp in October 2016, under the orders of Mr Macron’s predecessor Francois Hollande, significantly reduced the number of migrants concentrated in one area.

    However, many just dispersed to smaller camps across northern France.

    Others went to Paris, where numbers have dramatically increased.

    Calais remains a magnet for hundreds of young people determined to reach the UK.

    On Thursday, Mr Macron will call for a five-point plan to help solve the situation. It will include:

    A group of teenagers huddle around the back of a lorry and get in
    Image: A group of teenagers huddle around the back of a lorry and get in

    :: Better control of migratory flows
    :: A better welcome for asylum seekers
    :: Acceleration of the processing of asylum applications
    :: Working at EU level to ensure the laws of expulsion for failed asylum applicants are more effective
    :: Promotion of the integration of refugees

    In 2017, there were 100,000 asylum applications in France, which represents a 17% increase on 2016.

    Anecdotally, most in northern France are from countries like Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan in Africa, as well as a significant proportion from Afghanistan.

    Estimates of the numbers currently in the area vary, largely because they are moving all the time.

    The police have orders to prevent the pitching of tents. The consequence is a continuous game of cat-and-mouse which often leads to violent confrontations.

    Local charity workers, whose constant presence in the area gives them the most up-to-date understanding of the situation, say there are about 700 migrants around Calais and a further 300 or so to the east in Dunkirk.

    Government officials claim the number is smaller, with between 350 and 500 in and around Calais.

    In the hours before Mr Macron’s arrival, Sky News watched a small group of young African men as they attempted to stowaway in a refuelling lorry.

    We filmed from a distance as they ran towards the rear of the Croatian-registered vehicle. Four of them climbed into the rear trailer. The others looked for hiding places under the truck, and then gave up and ran off.

    Mohammas Maroufkhil
    Image: Mohammas Maroufkhil spoke to Sky News about his attempts to enter the UK

    Minutes later, we approached the driver who was aware of the migrants’ presence. He opened the trailer and two heads popped up from between the cargo.

    Abruptly, he shooed them away. Haulage firms are dealing with this on a daily basis.

    The single, privately contracted security guard at the fuel depot watched, apparently powerless.

    The other two young men could not be found but the driver seemed convinced that his vehicle was empty.

    In the woods up the road, not far from the old Jungle camp, we found 24-year-old Zahid Ullah Oryakhil from Afghanistan.

    He took us to see his bed for the night, in the undergrowth under a tarpaulin.

    The £2.3m wall built by the UK to keep out migrants
    Image: The £2.3m wall built by the UK to keep out migrants

    From his bag, under his stash of bread rolls – donated daily by charities – he produced his paperwork.

    Everyone has papers. It’s their proof that they exist. Often there is written testimony too – his has been translated into English by someone he’d met on his journey.

    It outlines his reasons for wanting a new home.

    “Taliban kill my brother,” one section reads.

    Among his papers is a newish document from the French government which states that Zahid’s asylum claim in France has been rejected.

    Sky News filmed as a group of migrants tried to break into a truck

    He has been told to leave France, but he is not forcibly deported.

    Nearby, another Afghan introduced himself as Mohammas Maroufkhil. His Afghan ID, tatty but neatly folded in a plastic bag, says he was born in 1991.

    “In 2010 I did asylum (claim) for the first time in Belgium. For nine years I was in Belgium. I stay in the camps, sometimes I stay with my friends. Always I try to make my life in Belgium because I have a problem in Afghanistan,” he explained.

    He said that he had applied for asylum nine times in Belgium and was rejected every time. After the fifth failed attempt in 2013, he went to what was the Calais Jungle and made it, on a truck, to London.

    Child refugees Calais

    “They deport me from the UK on 24 March 2014 and send me back to Belgium. But I come to Calais again, and I go to England again. I go out of the truck in England. Police catch me. They send me again to Belgium.” he says.

    He then tried for asylum four more times in Belgium and after the most recent attempt, he was given six hours to leave the country.

    He is now back in Calais to try to reach the UK for the third time. He explains that he’s heard rumours that the UK’s decision to leave the EU will increase his chances of asylum in Britain.

    Mohammas and Zahid’s stories demonstrate their determination but also point to a failing system.

    Asylum claims are rejected, in some cases repeatedly, but the claimants are not sent home or helped where they are.

    Volunteer firefighters attempt to extinguish blazing migrant camp in Calais

    Instead they are pushed out of one country to become someone else’s problem. It is happening all the time.

    Not far away from their woodland home is the £2.3m motorway wall which lines the port approach road.

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    Built in 2016 with British money, it was designed to keep the migrants off the trucks. But every day proves that it is useless.

    Down the road, at the end of the wall’s reach, another group shelter from the rain under a bridge. Sodden, miserable and desperate, they wait for their moment.

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