24 October 2019 02:36
Shadowy trafficking gangs have used the same route taken by the tragic 39 migrants for years, it is feared. Workers on the industrial estate where the 39 bodies were found in a refrigerated trailer in the early hours of Wednesday said there had been previous issues there. One business owner described seeing 20 migrants running away after clambering from the back of a lorry at the isolated site. He said: "With the Tilbury Docks, naturally you get a lot of lorries in this area. Police have now launched a desperate hunt for the trafficking gang responsible for the tragedy.
Tony Smith, the former head of Border Force, said they will have used safe houses across Europe. He said: "It's very unusual on two fronts. "I haven't ever in 40 years known for a large consignment of migrants to be smuggled in on that route. "This will be irregular migrants probably smuggled in from outside the EU. He said smugglers have all but given up on using Calais because it has been "sealed up" by UK and French authorities. "We've seen in recent years increasingly different and dangerous methods of human smugglers trying to get people in," he added. "For the last year we've seen small boats and people drowning. "Now these containers are being used which suggests smugglers and migrants are getting more and more desperate. There are hopes the smugglers may have left a paper-trail of forms submitted to the Zeebrugge and Thurrock port authorities. "I'm sure enforcement agencies and police will be looking at this." Anthony Steen, chairman of the Human Trafficking Foundation, said the migrants were likely from Afghanistan or Syria. "These are people desperate to get away," he said. "I'm quite sure the people in the back of the lorry were deceived into thinking they better get into Britain quickly because of Brexit. Gangsters rake in millions of pounds sending migrants on hellish 90-hour journeys in the back of lorries to the UK. Police said the numbers being smuggled into Britain inside containers and trailers has soared in the last year. The National Crime Agency said in May there had been "increasing use of higher risk methods of clandestine entry" by organised gangs. Senior detectives warned the use of "refrigerated HGVs" posed a "high risk to life" of those migrants smuggled. In a separate report the NCA highlighted Zeebrugge as a major hub used by smugglers hiding people in lorries. The 39 migrants found dead in Grays arrived in the UK on a ferry from the Belgian port in the early hours of yesterday. There are fears they were driven for days across Europe in the refrigerated unit by a smuggling gang who loaded it onto a ship. The trailer was collected in Thurrock by the Bulgarian-registered and Irish-owned truck before being driven to Grays. Bulgaria is a popular 'gateway' into Europe for desperate migrants fleeing war-torn Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Smuggling gangs operating in the mountainous area bordering Serbia have long-trafficked asylum seekers looking to start a new life. Millions of migrants have entered Bulgaria from neighbouring Turkey over the past five years through the so-called 'Balkan Route'. Instead migrants are preyed on by criminal gangs who charge them up to £3,000 each to be smuggled across Europe. However others are put into Bulgarian-registered lorries and driven across Europe in containers. Last year 12 Bulgarians were jailed for their role in the deaths of 71 migrants who suffocated in a sealed lorry in Austria. Police found the victims' decomposing bodies in the lorry, registered in Hungary and abandoned near an Austrian village. Afghan national Samsoor Lahoo, 31, identified as the gang leader got 25 years, as did three Bulgarian accomplices, including the driver. Ten others, all but one from Bulgaria, got shorter jail terms after being convicted of people-smuggling. Officials said they were crammed so tightly into the back of a small Volvo meat lorry they were unable to sit down. They are believed to have suffocated less than three hours after the lorry set off. According to prosecutors the smugglers knew that the migrants squeezed into the back were going to die. (Image: Wikimedia Commons/Marc Ryckaert) In June a massive Bulgarian-based smuggling ring was smashed after police raids in Sofia and other areas. The majority of the suspected traffickers came from Afghanistan and Iraq and smuggled migrants into Bulgaria from Turkey. In 2015 around one million migrants and refugees took the Western Balkans route through Serbia until Hungary closed its borders. It have previously been claimed smugglers are assisted by corrupt Bulgarian police who get a cut of the proceeds. In 2018 Bulgarian authorities arrested 689 migrants trying to enter the country illegally. Despite the mass influx, refugee camps in the country are said to be "almost empty". Bulgaria has built a security fence along its frontier with Turkey to keep out refugees and migrants. In 2017 UK authorities launched the multimillion-pound Project Invigor to tackle high-risk people smuggling. It has been trying to gather intelligence in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa to disrupt gangs. Last year the National Crime Agency warned smugglers were "abusing" the Ireland-UK border. Officials said they were concerned about an increase in the number of gangs found to be working through the common travel area. Georgian and Vietnamese gangs have previously been caught smuggling migrants into the UK via Ireland. Richard Burnett, boss of the Road Haulage Association, said conditions inside the trailer would have been "absolutely horrendous". He said: "This tragedy highlights the danger of migrant gangs people-smuggling on lorries. "It's highly unlikely that if this vehicle has come from Europe that it's been physically checked." He said temperatures inside refrigerated trailer units can be as low as -25C - leading to death "pretty quickly". Mr Burnett said smuggling gangs are a "massive issue" for UK lorry drivers, who have been attacked in recent weeks. "Drivers are facing challenges from smugglers and from gangs continuously," he said. "They have to be very careful about where they park up and about checking seals on their trailers to make sure nobody has broken in. Aid agency Care 4 Calais said it was "horrified but not surprised" at the deaths of the migrants. Founder Clare Moseley blamed "the lack of safe and legal routes for people to apply for asylum". She added: "It means every day people who are simply seeking safety undertake dangerous journeys. "It has become impossible for people to come to the UK in a safe way. That's why people take dangerous journeys to come here. "Smugglers and traffickers will keep exploiting these vulnerable people and avoidable deaths will continue."