Vulnerable migrants living in UK asylum hotels and children's homes are being targeted by criminal gangs, a British police chief has warned.
The migrants, most of whom arrive in the UK after crossing the Channel in small boats, are being recruited by gangs to be used as "cannon fodder".
The discovery was made as part of an investigation into the gangs behind Britain's biggest counterfeit crime network, run from Manchester, north-west England.
The groups, also linked to people-trafficking and drugs, are believed to account for more than half of the UK's £8.6 billion-a-year ($10.57 billion) counterfeit goods trade.
Stephen Watson, Greater Manchester’s Chief Constable, said gangs were exploiting migrants by using them for illegal labour.
“We have to be clear that there are vulnerable people being rendered more vulnerable but there are also some pretty shady characters who are on the make in the UK and we need to root them out and boot them out,” he told The Daily Telegraph.
“The poor souls who are being exploited become cannon fodder to organised crime groups. They become a source of labour. They become a totally beholden, disempowered group of people who very quickly travel the spectrum from being victims and exploited through to exploiters, and people who create victims of others.
“The bottom line is, even if you have a set of circumstances that make more legitimate your claim for asylum in the UK, these people are being exploited to the point that they are hardly likely to develop into the sort of mature, decent, law-abiding people who will integrate and contribute to our society.
“They are likely to become damaged people and hardened criminals and frankly, they will end up in a position where far from contributing, they will be a net burden on the state for the rest of their natural lives," he added. "There are so many reasons to sort this out."
Mr Watson launched Operation Vulcan to crack down on the gangs this year.
His team has discovered gang members are paying young and adult migrants £10-£20 a day to act as spotters to keep lookout for police and deal drugs.
More than 40,000 asylum seekers are being housed across the UK in hotels at a daily cost of £7 million.
It was revealed this month that dozens of child refugees have gone missing.
In Kent, south-east England, it was revealed almost a fifth of Albanian child refugees have gone missing.
Kent county council took in 197 unaccompanied children from Albania between January and October 31 this year and, of those, 39 are missing.
Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, is proposing to fast-track the deportation of Albanian migrants.
“It’s clear that in some cases there are strong links between organised criminal gangs and illegal migrants," the Home Office said. "That’s why this government is working on options to break the people traffickers’ business model and ensure we stem the flow of small boats crossing the Channel."
More than 40,000 asylum seekers, of all nationalities, have crossed the Channel to the UK on small boats this year to date. Of these, 11,000 were Albanians.
Only 800 Albanians arrived by boat throughout the whole of last year.