People-smuggling profiles remain online as migrants keep streaming across the Channel

Social media sites ignore requests to take down pages of human traffic gangs

People smugglers are becoming increasingly professional to maximise their profits.  AP Photo
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Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media networks have disregarded requests by the UK National Crime Agency to take down pages used by human traffickers, including those promoting illegal boat trips across the English Channel.

Gangs publicise smuggling routes and advertise false or stolen documents on social-networking sites, said Rob Jones, an NCA director.

Between January and May, the agency flagged to the technology companies more than 1,200 pages it said should be closed.

Of those, 578 were closed and 485 were rejected for not breaching conditions, Mr Jones said.

“The main reasons provided by social media companies for pages not being removed include that the page does not contravene their policies or that the page or post does not meet the required threshold to constitute a breach of policy," Mr Jones wrote to MPs.

"On occasion individual posts will be removed but pages kept open.”

On Tuesday, UK authorities tracked down six boats carrying 159 people trying to cross the English Channel.

Clandestine Channel Threat commander Dan O'Mahoney said the smugglers behind the crossings were breaking the law and that UK authorities were "relentlessly" going after those responsible.

That day, seven suspected members of a people-smuggling ring helping migrants to enter the UK illegally from France were arrested.

So far this year, 7,915 people have made the perilous journey across the world’s busiest shipping strait in more than 600 boats.

In 2018, fewer than 500 people were detected entering Britain in small boats.

The numbers arriving by sea have been rising, partly because of the drop in lorry traffic travelling into the UK due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Smugglers are flourishing as social media sites offer a “really good, dynamic, agile way for people to move migrants between them, and for groups to communicate”, Mr Jones said.

Although people smuggling is not as lucrative as drugs or weapons trafficking, an inflatable dinghy with an engine could be bought for less than £5,000 and, if packed, can mean a good margin for gangs.

Alp Mehmet, chairman of the campaign group Migration Watch UK, said there is “simply no excuse” for social media companies to not co-operate with the NCA.

Facebook justifies sharing how to escape a country illegally, not through human trafficking, by saying it could help to save peoples’ lives.

“We work closely with law-enforcement agencies around the world, including Europol, to identify, remove and report this illegal activity,” a Facebook spokesman said.

In September, MPs heard that Facebook, YouTube and other organisations refused to shut down many pages understood to be used by people-smuggling networks, despite requests from the Home Office and police.