The threat from organised immigration crime

Entering the UK illegally prevents law enforcement from conducting criminal record or security checks, meaning we don't know who they are or what risk they pose to the UK.

The nature of people smuggling reflects political and legal developments, and humanitarian crises in other countries, making this an ever-changing threat. The closure of migrant camps in France in 2016/17 reduced opportunistic attempts to gain entry to the UK but has provided opportunities to organised crime groups, who facilitate a greater proportion of crossings. Belgium has now become a major focus for people smugglers targeting the UK. 

The number of people smuggled across the Mediterranean has reduced over the last year; there are a number of issues behind this, including law enforcement activity and greater border security. However migrants around Libya are frequently robbed, tortured, raped and coerced into forced labour or prostitution. People smuggled across the seas are generally transported in overcrowded and inadequate craft.

Indeed smuggling methods are generally dangerous and traumatic whatever the means of transport and many people have died in their bid to reach Northern Europe. 

Organised crime groups involved in immigration crime are highly exploitative of vulnerable adults and children, charging large sums of money for their illegal services. This revenue is often used to fund other forms of criminality. Some use violence in order to maintain territorial control and to control migrants.

Criminals involved in immigration crime operate in various ways; some may act alone or be part of a small group, whilst others form extensive global networks with members based in a number of countries to facilitate illegal migration.

False identity documents remain a key enabler of organised immigration crime and wealthier illegal migrants often enter the UK using false documents which they have bought. Counterfeit and forged documents are used for:

  • Illegal immigration by air
  • Fraudulent visa applications
  • Applications for leave to enter and for leave to remain  
  • Applications for legitimate travel documents, which the applicant would otherwise not be eligible for

Fraudulent documents come at a high cost however and are unaffordable for most migrants, who are instead forced to conceal themselves in legitimate traffic entering the UK.

Routes into the UK

The most common clandestine ways for migrants to enter the UK are in lorries or other commercial vehicles transported by rail or ferry, in commercial shipping containers, or in small boats.  Organised gangs frequently smuggle people in hard-sided lorries, more opportunist smuggling tends to be in soft-sided lorries. Most methods of transport subject migrants to significant personal risk.

The length of the UK's coastline and the sheer volume of passengers and freight entering the UK every year make identifying shipments containing illegal migrants a significant challenge.

Whatever their method of entering the UK however, without permission to work legally migrants can be exploited and forced into modern slavery or turn to crime to support themselves.

Our response

The transnational nature of organised immigration crime makes international collaboration essential. Tackling people-smuggling at every stage of the journey –  from source, to transit, to destination country - is necessary to stop the flow of illegal entry into the UK.

We lead a UK taskforce targeting the organised crime group threat to Europe through the Mediterranean region and the UK. Project INVIGOR includes UK partners such as Immigration Enforcement, Border Force, police and the Crown Prosecution Service.

The taskforce is active in source and transit countries, developing intelligence and building international capability to combat the threat. We are also working closely with partners across Europe and within the UK to share intelligence and resources to disrupt people-smuggling networks across the continent.

We are also targeting key enablers of OIC such as criminal use of social media to make it more difficult for them to advertise their services online and the illicit finances gained from their criminality.

How you can help

You can help secure our borders. If you live near the coast, waterways or a rural airfield and see anything suspicious please report it to your local police or Crimestoppers quoting 'Kraken' (if near a waterway) or 'Pegasus' (if at an airfield).

If you have any information about corruption at a port or airport again please report to your local police or Crimestoppers.