Authorities in northern France are growing concerned over the number of people who are tempted into becoming part-time people traffickers in order to earn a living.
French authorities have revealed that unemployed people in parts of northern France are being tempted into illegally ferrying migrants across the channel in their cars in exchange for cash – sometimes as much as €2,000 per person.
Thousands of migrants are camped out in the northern port cities of Calais and others are amassed in Boulogne-sur-Mer, from where they hope to make it across the Channel to the UK.
Normally their only way to cross the sea is by hiding out in the back, or underneath a truck, and hope that police who guard the ferry and Eurotunnel train terminals do not detect them.
But French police, under pressure from British authorities have been cracking down resulting in migrants making ever more desperate efforts to get across the Channel.
Some have even tried to make rafts to cross the Channel and others have died after being crushed under the wheels of lorries after they tried to hang on to the under carriage.
With most roads seemingly blocked traffickers have now turned their attention to local French people – and it appears there’s no shortage of volunteers looking to make some money.
According to Europe1 radio in the last year 80 people have been arrested and around 40 cases have been pursued through the courts.
French lawyer Emmanuelle Osmont, based in the port town of Boulogne sur Mer, told The Local on Wednesday that the traffickers preyed on locals in need of money.
“In the past the traffickers, who are often from Asia or Albania, recruited people around them to do these journeys, but the risks became too great. Then they turned to the truck drivers, but now its local French people who are suffering from financial difficulties,” Osmont said.
She said the traffickers, who are earning “millions each year”, are specifically targeting those French people living in poorer areas and trying to persuade them they are doing a good deed.
“We have even had two or three students up before the courts and they are targeting local business people who may be struggling to pay their bills or their taxes, because of the ongoing economic crisis” she said. “The mafia is benefiting from that.”
Osmont said local people are caught in a trap because they do not know the dangers involved and the risks they face.
“They do not know the legal risks in France if they are convicted, which could be a sentence between three and five years in prison,” she said.
“They don’t know the dangers to the migrants because they are often transported in the back of cars or vans and can go for two to three hours without getting any air.
“Then there’s the dangers from the trafficking gangs themselves who are often armed with Kalashnikovs. They are really stuck in the middle,” she added.
Osmont said authorities are now trying to get the message out to French people that no matter how much they need the money it is not worth taking the risk.
If locals are approached by traffickers they are being asked to report them directly to the French police, she said.
One of her clients, who has declined to be named, said he was tempted into the illegal activity after ending up near bankrupt and saw a people smuggler waving wads of cash in his face trying to recruit him.
“I was offered €2,000 per person. At first I hesitated but I needed the money and said yes,” he told Europe1.
“It’s a trap. Once you are in, it’s very difficult to get out. The recruiters are there all the time, every day, they put pressure on us,” he said.
“Physically, they are imposing. It’s a mafia, so you have to be careful. It’s very dangerous,” he added.
He succumbed to the temptation and made a first trip to England with a group of migrants stashed in his small van. He was arrested by British police on a second journey.