Organised Immigration Crime Title. Shows Home Office image of a boat that was encountered by Border Force in December 2022, carrying 33 individuals to the UK. As with most small boat arrivals this vessel measured approximately 7.7m x 2.7m and was not constructed to a recognised standard.

Organised immigration crime involves moving a person across borders without legal permission or documentation, with the assistance of an organised crime group. 

60% increase in small boat arrivals for 2022 compared to 2021. Source: Home Office.Rigid-hulled inflatable boats travelling from northern France, commonly referred to as small boats, were a frequent method of entry to the UK for irregular migrants in 2022. Apart from February, November and December, which had unfavourable weather conditions, every month of the year saw increased small boat arrivals compared with 2021. 

Organised criminals arranging small boat Channel crossings for irregular migrants prioritise profit over safety, frequently overloading boats. This increases the likelihood of a mass casualty event. Throughout 2022, the average number of migrants on board each boat increased as organised criminals transported a greater number of people in fewer launches. 

There was a steep increase in Albanians using small boats in May, which continued to increase throughout the summer months before rapidly declining in the autumn, with negligible numbers detected in winter 2022/2023. The rise was due to a number of factors including an increased collaboration between Albanian organised crime groups and the Kurdish crime groups controlling much of the small boat crossing criminal marketplace. Albanian organised crime groups acted as brokers to secure places on small boats for irregular migrants. Albanian drug gangs recruited other Albanian nationals into crime in exchange for their crossing fee, a form of debt bondage. 

Afghans were the second most commonly detected nationality arriving by small boat in 2022. The rise is likely due to a combination of displacement from the August 2021 Taliban takeover and secondary migration from Europe. Other irregular migrants from nearby Middle Eastern countries were detected entering the UK in large numbers in 2022, specifically Iranian, Iraqi and Syrian nationals.

Social media has played an important role in advertising small boat migration to the UK. Organised crime groups use particular social media platforms to attract specific nationalities of migrants. The use of social media to advertise the sale of fraudulent identity documents also continued in 2022.

Irregular migrants continue to enter the UK clandestinely within vehicles. However, detections decreased in 2022, highly likely as a result of displacement to small boats. Entry by small boat is typically cheaper than by vehicle and has a high success rate. 

4,569 inadequately documented arrivals in 2022. Those by air increased in summer 2022 to the levels seen pre-pandemic in 2019. Source: Home Office.The use of air routes by organised immigration crime groups increased in 2022. The continued easing of COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions has resulted in more air travel. During the summer, the number of passengers attempting to travel to the UK without adequate documentation increased.

What You Can Do

Organised immigration crime offenders routinely use practices that endanger the safety of the people using their services.

The public may hold information that is valuable to law enforcement. Significant investigations into organised immigration crime offences have benefited from the receipt of information from members of the public. 

A range of signs may be visible, including:

  • Activity at isolated coastal locations or at unusual times of day, including attempts to guide vessels offshore to unusual landfall, or crew showing signs of nervousness.
  • People coming out of the back of HGVs at service stations or on the roadside. 
  • For businesses, strange patterns of payment being made such as receipt of frequent cash payments from multiple sources through bank accounts.
  • Small aircraft making short landings at remote or unmanned airfields.

You can report to local police by calling 101 or 999 if there is an immediate risk of harm or danger.

To report organised immigration crime anonymously, visit here, call the Immigration Enforcement hotline on 0300 123 7000 or contact Crimestoppers, quoting Kraken (if near a waterway) or Pegasus (if at an airfield).

If you spot someone in an emergency situation off the coastline you should call 999 or 112 and ask for the Coastguard. 

Case Study

Six men who set up a storage base for a small boat people smuggling network in northern France have been jailed after an investigation by NCA and French police that began in summer 2022. NCA officers working with the Anglo-French Joint Intelligence Cell identified a location where boats and equipment were being stored by the crime group.

The group sourced boats from Turkey, engines and life jackets, taking them to the premises 25 miles south of Lille. The lock-up was being used as a staging post for the crime group, who would move boats from there to the French Cote d’Opale when they were required for migrant crossings.

The group included an Iraqi national who as chief organiser controlled access to the lock-up, an Afghan national acting as a recruiter for migrants, and two drivers.

The investigation of this criminal network demonstrates the roles played by small boat facilitators as they obtain boats from distant countries and then transport them to northern France ahead of the launch.

Increasing Small Boat Arrivals

Graphic showing increasing small boat arrivals. Monthly average number of people per boat in small boat arrivals has increased in 2022, compared to 2021. Number of incidents increased from 674 in 2021 to 1,109 in 2022.