Lorry drivers across Yorkshire are urged to be on the lookout for potential crime gangs behind people smuggling as part of a new campaign launched today by charity Crimestoppers.
The hard-hitting campaign is reminding hauliers and the general public that people die whilst hiding in trucks and the charity is urging people to report anything they see or hear that is suspicious before it is too late.
The appeal follows the recent tragedy which saw 39 Vietnamese migrants suffer a painful death by suffocating in a lorry trailer on their way to Purfleet in Essex. Seven men have been jailed for a total of 92 years as a result of the investigation into the deaths.
Haulage drivers are often approached by organised crime groups involved in people smuggling. These criminal networks treat migrants as a commodity to be profited from, charging large sums of money for their illegal service, without care for the safety of those they transport. Violence is sometimes used to maintain their grip on the migrants and to ensure territorial control.
During 2020, the National Crime Agency (NCA) and Immigration Enforcement were involved in more than 750 arrests relating to organised immigration crime, human trafficking or people smuggling, both in the UK and overseas.
Crimestoppers is also working with HMRC and Border Force to distribute informative leaflets to lorry drivers which highlight the below signs to spot of people smuggling. Available in 17 languages, all leaflets contain a QR code which can be scanned to take a driver to more information in their preferred language.
Director of Operations at Crimestoppers, Mick Duthie, said: “Haulier drivers can be approached by people smugglers, hence why we are reaching out to them to help us stop this cruel trade. We know that people smuggling is driven by criminal gangs who exploit migrants for financial gain. Smugglers can operate alone, or in small gangs, or they can be part of a large international crime operation.
“The consequences of their actions were evident in the tragic loss of life seen when dozens of Vietnamese migrants died from suffocation whilst being transported in a sealed refrigerator lorry in Essex. Every death as a result of immigration crime is a tragedy and we hope that we can help prevent further harm and suffering by catching these callous smugglers who care little for the welfare of their victims.”
Hauliers are urged to contact Crimestoppers anonymously if they suspect other drivers are being approached to carry items for payment, see false driving licences or driver identification; witness regular breaches of security within the port complex they visit; or see suspicious or unusual activity by people or vehicles around the wagon.
The NCA’s Head of Organised Immigration Crime Operations, Miles Bonfield, said: “What happened in Essex in October 2019 shows clearly that this is not a victimless crime
“People smugglers put lives at risk, day in day out, and these criminal networks often try to use hauliers as part of their business model. We want hauliers to help us make that as difficult as possible.
“My message to hauliers is that we need your help to try and disrupt this dangerous criminality and I’d ask them to report anything suspicious. But I’d also like to put out a warning to those who might consider in engaging in this activity. We and our partners are targeting everyone involved in people smuggling, and the penalties are severe.”
Crimestoppers employs a team of professional call agents at our 24/7 UK Contact Centre who anonymise all information. This ensures the person giving the details can never be identified, before passing it on to police or other relevant law enforcement agencies to investigate and safeguard where necessary.