Albanian migrants urged by gangs to use Border Force strikes to slip into UK with fake EU passports
ORGANIZED crime gangs are encouraging people to use fake EU passports to sneak into the country instead of crossing the Channel in boats, Essex News and Investigations has learned.
People smugglers are also telling would-be migrants that strikes by UK Border Force officers mean less checks and more opportunities to try to slip into the UK using sophisticated fake biometric European passports and identity cards.
The fake passports allegedly include forged biometrics indicating their production has evolved from traditional copies.
It comes as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced last week new measures to deter Albanians from making the dangerous crossings.
This includes new legislation by the end of February to increase the number of weekly flights deporting people to Albania.
He also pledged Border Force officers will be based at Tirana airport, the recruitment of 400 new specialists to expedite Albanian asylum applications and new guidance to asylum caseworkers making decisions that Albania is a "safe country," meaning the majority of claims would be rejected.
According to Home Office figures, last year 45,728 people crossed the Channel in small boats to illegally enter the country and around a third of them were found to be Albanian nationals, mainly men.
An investigation has identified an Albanian group on messaging platform Telegram with the name “Journey to England,” which is offering fake passports from Norway, Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Malta, Portugal and Slovenija, which it claims have got people into the UK.
In a bid to prove to potential clients what they can do, the group showed a photo of a Slovenian passport and identity details with a pictures of an Albanian woman on it.
The image was captioned "she managed to get to England successfully”.
The group claimed by using this passport she started the journey from Naples in Italy and arrived at London Gatwick on a low-cost airline.
The gang published another successful case of an Albanian male who it claimed got into the UK using a Bulgarian passport under an assumed name.
It also published fake EU passports the gang claimed were used by several other Albanians to illegally enter the UK.
An undercover reporter posed as an Albanian national interested in purchasing a fake passport to gain entry to the UK and contacted the group by messaging.
A reply came from a UK mobile number suggesting the user was using a mobile phone obtained in this country.
Our reporter asked about the price for a fake EU passport.
The response said: “2.600€ for one passport. They are with original details and of good quality. You have to get to Italy. From there we send the people. Now it is good time. Less checks at the UK airports. So easy to get out of the airports”.
Several accounts on social media site TikTok run by Albanians are also telling people to now switch from boat crossings to using fake passports.
We found accounts which published videos which appeared to show Croatian, Italian and Danish biometrics passports and ID documents being created, which they claimed were ready to be delivered to Albanians hoping to enter the UK.
A National Crime Agency spokesman said: "False and fraudulently obtained identity documents continue to enable organised immigration crime.
"Just over a year ago we announced agreement on an action plan with social media companies, which has resulted in greater collaboration against crime groups using social media to recruit, communicate and advertise a range of services to migrants.
"Since that came into effect we have worked with them to have more 2,200 posts, pages or accounts advertising organised immigration crime services removed from platforms.
"We are clear that the industry urgently needs to work with us and do more to prevent their platforms being exploited by organised criminals."
The Home Office, TikTok and Telegram were also contacted for comment.
A Home Office spokeswoman said Border Force has undertaken extensive planning with ports and airports ahead of the strike action and non-striking Border Force staff, with the full range of appropriate powers, are continuing to complete their vital roles, including stopping and detaining passengers where appropriate, supported by military personnel and civil servant volunteers.
She added: “We have some of the most robust border controls in the world and our officers have an array of tools at their disposal to prevent individuals using fraudulent documents from entering the UK.
"Border Force’s number one priority is to keep the border safe and secure at all times and we have not compromised on this.
“Attempting to enter the UK using a fake passport is a crime and those who attempt to cheat the system will face the full consequences of the law.”
A TikTok spokesman said: "We prohibit content that facilitates people smuggling or illegal immigration and we have permanently banned this account. We work closely with UK law enforcement and industry partners on this issue, participate in a joint action plan with the National Crime Agency, and continue to invest significant resources to fight this kind of content."