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Channel deaths: People smugglers touting openly on Facebook

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Finding a route across the channel is as easy as typing "smuggler" into Facebook.

Far from being a hidden world, Sky News has found that a network of smugglers is operating openly on the social media platform.

Routes into Europe and the UK are regularly highlighted, with posts featuring images of the Union Jack and Big Ben.

One smuggler even claimed he would be able to make customers a British passport.

It comes as 27 people died while attempting to cross the Channel, one of the worst death tolls in recent years.

Image: Discussions about the best ways to cross the channel are also taking place on Facebook

Many who attempt the crossing come from counties including Iran, Syria and Iraq, with high numbers of Iraqi Kurds attempting to make the dangerous journey.

Sky News searched Facebook for terms written in Kurdish and Arabic such as "smuggler" and "UK visa", as well as locations such as Calais, Dunkirk and England.

These results brought up smugglers advertising the routes, listing their phone numbers and inviting people to message them privately for more information, such as costs.

There is no suggestion Facebook is taking any revenue for the content.

This post claims customers will be able to legally travel into the UK within three days and that the journey will be done in the "best, safest and easiest way".

Image: Smugglers are posting adverts on Facebook, such as this one which provides a phone number

One of the most prolific smugglers posting onto Facebook is a man who says he lives in the Kurdish region of Iraq.

He claims to be able to get migrants into a number of countries, including the UK. In this advert he promotes a route from Dunkirk to the United Kingdom at "a reasonable price".

Image: This advert, which also includes a phone number, offers a number of routes such as Dunkirk to the UK

On his Facebook profile, he describes himself as putting "trust before profit". His cover photo - a photo at the top of the page - is of a passport and boarding card.

Image: 'Trust before profit' is written in the 'intro' section of this smuggler's profile

He often posts several adverts a week, many with the same wording. In his adverts he claims to offer guarantees as well as being able to deliver "the lowest price and the shortest time".

Image: Many of the adverts are copied and pasted across different pages

To encourage prospective customers, the smuggler has posted a number of passports and visas he claims to have secured.

Image: One smuggler has uploaded a number of passports and visas he claims to have secured for other migrants

Like many other smugglers on the platform, he uses photos of landmarks to help catch people's attention.

Image: Smugglers often post pictures of famous European landmarks in their adverts

Here, a different smuggler posts his advert alongside pictures of the Union Jack and Big Ben. In his post he claims he will be able to "make you a British passport".

Image: This smuggler claims he will be able to 'make you a British passport'

His offer is eye-catching, with 210 people liking the post and almost 30 comments posted beneath it.

"Hello brother, I want to talk to you," one man writes. "My dear brother, inbox me", the smuggler writes back, inviting him to send him a direct private message.

Images of European flag carrier planes are also used.

Image: As well as landmarks, photos of flag carrier planes such as British Airways and Air France form part of the adverts. There's no indication any airlines are involved in aiding the smugglers

In this advert, a smuggler features both British Airways and Air France planes. The final image in his post includes a phone number to call. The photos of the airlines are used without permission and there is no indication that British Airways or Air France are aware the images are being used in this way.

Some adverts do not rely on promises, guarantees and glossy images of the UK. One smuggler simply posts that he can take people from France to Britain and provides a number.

Image: Those looking to be smuggled use the platform to ask questions, including on costs

Many adverts are posted into pages used primarily for other reasons, ranging from general community pages to those for an electronic goods store.

However, some pages are set up specifically to discuss smuggling and attract those looking to get into the UK and elsewhere.

One example of this is a group page called "Smuggling to Europe with a guarantee". Its profile and cover photos are images of migrants taken from news sites. It has almost 800 members.

Image: The name of this page, which has almost 800 members, is 'Smuggling to Europe with a guarantee'

One of the page's most recent posts was published on 10 November and is of a video showing migrants in Dunkirk, France.

Another video shared on these pages includes one from social media app TikTok. It shows part of the journey between Calais and the UK.

Image: A TikTok video about crossing from Calais to France was also shared on one of the pages

It's not just smugglers posting adverts. People post questions about costs and routes. They also share news about other migrant crossings.

One man asks if a German visa would enable him to enter Britain. A profile which appears to belong to a smuggler replies that it wouldn't work. The first man adds if a person can get to Germany, they could attempt to get to the UK "by foot".

Image: Routes through Europe are also discussed

Another man asks how much it costs to get into Britain.

Image: Those looking to be smuggled use the platform to ask questions, including on costs

Another shares the news of the high number of migrants who died on Wednesday.

Image: News of the deaths on Wednesday were shared widely on a number of migrant pages

Five months ago, Priti Patel wrote to social media companies including Facebook, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube. She said more needed to be done to remove posts that are "glamourising" dangerous migrant crossings.

A spokesperson for Meta, who own Facebook, told Sky News: "Our thoughts go out to all those affected by these tragic events.

"Co-ordinating people smuggling is not allowed on Facebook and we work with law enforcement to tackle it.

"We use a combination of AI technology, human review and reports from our users and trusted partners to detect and remove posts like this."

Sky News understands the pages brought to the attention of Facebook are now under investigation and will be removed if they are found to have violated the platform's policies.

The Data and Forensics team is a multi-skilled unit dedicated to providing transparent journalism from Sky News. We gather, analyse and visualise data to tell data-driven stories. We combine traditional reporting skills with advanced analysis of satellite images, social media and other open source information. Through multimedia storytelling we aim to better explain the world while also showing how our journalism is done.

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