- MPs demanded urgent action to ‘crush’ lucrative people smuggling networks
- Daily Mail investigation exposed Albanian gangster openly running vile trade
- Nicknamed the ‘Golden Lion’, smuggler makes an estimated £1million a week
- He told undercover reporters he could get them over Channel for £4,500 each
MPs tonight demanded urgent action to ‘crush’ people smuggling networks making millions of pounds out of dangerous Channel crossings.
Their calls came after an undercover investigation in Monday’s Daily Mail exposed an Albanian gangster openly running the vile trade in Dunkirk.
Nicknamed the ‘Golden Lion’, he makes an estimated £1million a week sending migrants to Britain on flimsy dinghies.
He told reporters posing as customers that he could take them for £4,500 each and promised that the British authorities would give them food, blankets and everything they needed before putting them up in a hotel. ‘After that, you can go where you want,’ he said.
Nicknamed the ‘Golden Lion’, this people smuggler makes an estimated £1million a week sending migrants to Britain on flimsy dinghies
Showing how easily people smugglers can outwit the authorities, the gangster was picked up by French police hours after we met him – only to be released the following morning to immediately resume his operations.
His is just one of a string of highly organised trafficking gangs we found in northern France – one of which has 600 people on a waiting list for places on small boats.
Our shocking investigation also found that gang warfare – with frequent gunfights – is rife between rival traffickers who act like mafia bosses battling for control of illegal camps and launching areas on beaches.
More than 32,000 migrants have crossed the English Channel in small boats so far this year – more than made it through the whole of 2021.
Albanians accounted for about 60 per cent of arrivals over the summer. The small boat trips are highly dangerous and at times deadly, with 27 migrants – including children – drowning when a dinghy went down off Calais last November.
More tragedies were narrowly avoided this month when dozens of migrants were plucked from the sea off Kent after a boat sank. Only last week a dinghy capsized off Calais with 57 mostly Albanian migrants on board, including 17 children, two of whom were babies.
Many of them needed emergency treatment for hypothermia after being rescued by a French patrol vessel.
The Daily Mail discovered that the people smuggling industry is flourishing despite the dangers and the attempts to deter the illegal crossings – including fast track removal of Albanians whose asylum claims are rejected and the stalled plan to send migrants to Rwanda.
‘Road to England’ picture from a TikTok translates as: Safe road Hurry, Hurry it’s a good time and cheap price
Dunkirk’s Place de la Gare – home to its train and bus stations – has now become a major staging post for those en route to the UK, our joint investigation with Albanian ABC News channel’s Piranja programme found. Budget hotels that surround the square are filled with migrants waiting for a boat, while taxi drivers offer a 30 euro special to take you to an illegal camp. The surge in Albanian migrants means that some shopkeepers and cafes in Dunkirk now open on Sunday to cater for the extra customers.
At a cafe overlooking the train station our reporters were introduced to the ‘Golden Lion’, who is originally from Vlore in the south of Albania.
Another migrant from Has in northern Albania, who was himself waiting for a boat to England, told our reporter about him, explaining: ‘He will find you because he collects Albanians for England.
‘He spends all the time on the square and takes them to the hotel that he stays in.’
Within five minutes, the trafficker walked past with a friend on the way to the nearby Le Lion d’Or hotel where he is based and from which he gets his nickname.
Wearing shorts, flip flops and a Hugo Boss T-shirt, he told the reporters – who were posing as a young couple hoping to get to England – that he could arrange places on a boat for under £9,000 when the weather improved.
He said: ‘I will let you know. I will send a message the first moment that I find out. I pray to God to make this possible. The weather is the problem. I and others are not the problem.’
‘Road to England’ still from a TikTok translates as departure tomorrow, hurry, book privately from Dunkirk
The following day, now wearing an Armani T-shirt, he met for coffee in a cafe in the square. Despite the huge risk of sinking, the trafficker insisted there was ‘no chance of anything going wrong. ‘Let’s say someone drowns in the sea, then you don’t just have a problem with the state,’ he said.
‘The main problem is with the family of that person. No one will forgive you for that.
‘People on the boat phone their relatives and then they phone the UK police to get you. As soon [as] you cross the water they will give you food, everything. If people are cold they give them blankets.
‘They then drop you at a camp. It will be one day or two days until they register you and see if you are a wanted person and then they let you free and send you to a hotel.
‘After that, you can go where you want. They could keep you in a camp for up to five days or it could be two hours. Yesterday, a family were let free after two hours. You are with your wife and I believe they will let you free quickly.’
The trafficker, who uses a Spanish-registered mobile phone, comes and goes from Dunkirk to avoid detection. Cash for the trips has to be paid to his associate in London, rather than handed over in France, he explained.
After a few minutes with our reporters he had to move on to speak to some of his other customers who were sitting at the adjoining table in the cafe.
Hours after the meeting he was taken away by police in a round-up of all the Albanians in the cafe at the time – apart from one who was in the toilet. But the following morning the ‘Golden Lion’ was back out and operating again.
‘They can’t do anything because I have the documents to stay here,’ he said in a WhatsApp message.
As they are from an EU applicant state, Albanians are free to enter France and stay for 90 days without a visa. Other traffickers operate from a migrant camp just outside Dunkirk which frequently descends into violence amid a power struggle for control of the trafficking trade. Migrants, who make contact through social media adverts, must stay in the section controlled by their own trafficker or there will be ‘problems’.
Migrants walk back to the camp after visiting the supermarket at Grand-Synthe, Dunkirk
Responding to our undercover investigation, Natalie Elphicke, Conservative MP for Dover, said: ‘It shows beyond question how criminals are exploiting the Channel migrant crisis to feed their illegal operations in the UK.
‘This yet again underlines the urgent need to work with France to stop the small boats leaving French shores, to crack down on ruthless criminals and stop the disgusting exploitation that goes on. No ifs or buts, action must be taken now.’
Alp Mehmet of Migration Watch UK said: ‘Congratulations to the Daily Mail, what great investigative journalism.
‘It is also a timely reminder of the scale of the problem that the new Home Secretary faces and the sort of monstrous scum behind the evil racket. It shows too why the French – in their interests and ours – must work more closely with us to solve this mega-crisis.’
Tory MP for Ipswich Tom Hunt said our ‘disturbing’ investigation showed that people smuggling businesses needed to be ‘crushed’.
He added: ‘It’s very worrying, but we know it’s taking place and there is an industry behind it. We need to make the route unviable and destroy their business model. They are making a lot of money, so we need to create a deterrent.’
Additional reporting: Eriola Nasi