The German Federal Police have joined France and the UK in an anti-people-smuggling operation called ‘Small Boats’. They say smugglers are buying boats in Germany with the aim of transporting migrants across the Channel.
"According to information obtained by the Federal Police, smugglers are now coming to Germany to purchase small boats and motors, as well as life vests, in order to smuggle migrants from France to Great Britain," read a statement from the German Federal Police on the online portal of the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ).
The police were responding to a question in the German parliament from the Left party (Die Linke) MP Clara Bünger. She asked about a project which reportedly began at the beginning of the year between German and British police to look into the smuggling networks supporting the Channel crossings.
Operation 'Small Boats'
The British-German exchange is part of a wider project run by the French Interior Ministry entitled "Small Boats." The operation is designed to try to break up the networks and their supply chains, in order to cut down on the number of migrants crossing the Channel.
According to estimates by the French police, reports the German Press Agency dpa, about 90% of the boats and motors that are used by smugglers to transport migrants across the Channel are actually bought in Germany. After purchase, the boats are then taken to Belgium.
The move of supply chains to Germany became intensified after the French authorities made it compulsory to show ID and provide a telephone number before buying items like small boats, outboard motors or life-vests.
In December, the French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, reported FAZ, said that some of the smuggling networks were resident in Germany and often came from the same countries as the migrants they were smuggling.
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Smuggling ring discovered with links to Germany
One such ring was discovered in the Germany city of Osnabrück, in the state of Lower Saxony, not far from the German-Dutch border. In November, in that city there was a reported attempted murder which the police said was an attempt at retribution by the smuggling gang.
The Left party parliamentarian Clara Bünger criticized the German police’s participation in the operation, saying it would be much better to concentrate on creating safe and legal routes both into the EU and from the EU to Great Britain. Bünger said that "criminalization didn’t mean that smuggling would not continue, but it makes the journey there more dangerous and more expensive and forces people who are fleeing to become dependent on these smugglers."
On January 5, the Osnabrücker Zeitung (OZ) reported that Kurdish clans were delivering the boats to other gang members stationed on the French coasts. The OZ said that its information had first been outlined in the French magazine Paris Match.
Also read: Kurdish refugee reaches Germany
Buying boats in cash
At least one of the five suspected smugglers arrested following the Channel tragedy in November when at least 27 people died, reported German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel, was driving a car with a German number plate. At the time, Darmanin said that the smugglers had bought the boat that got into difficulty in Germany too.
In a Spiegel report from November 25, the French authorities said that it was well known that smugglers were buying "boats in cash in Germany." In Mid-November, reported Spiegel, Dutch police stopped smuggling suspects coming from Germany on the motorway headed towards France.
Meanwhile, the crossings continue. On January 23 the English newspaper Daily Mail and various other news sources reported that "nearly 100 migrants" were brought ashore in Dover after crossing the Channel from France.