Written for: IBTimesUK
(Human traffickers use images of flashy cruise liners to advertise the deadly journey to Europe)
People smugglers are using Facebook to advertise transport for Syrian refugees from Turkey to Britain for up to £10,000 ($16,000, €14,000) per person.
On Arabic profile pages littered with images of luxurious cruise liners and even testimonials by former clients, smugglers promise routes from Turkey to Greece, Italy and the UK, and list telephone numbers for refugees to contact.
One smuggler contacted by IBTimes UK said he could arrange transport from Izmir in Turkey by boat to Greece for a cost of £1,720 and then an onward flight to the UK.
When asked about the ability of Syrian refugees to reach the UK, he said, in broken Arabic: “We offer flights from Greece to the UK, very easy.”
Asked what documentation a refugee might need, he said: “No passport needed, we do everything” but added that price for travel from Greece to the UK was considerably more expensive, at €15,000.
The migrant crisis has been in the spotlight after almost 700 people died on 19 April in what was called the Mediterranean’s worst disaster.
Reports say 2015 has been the worst year yet for the migrant deaths, with 1,500 killed since the start of the year. Many of the migrants are from Africa and the war-torn countries of the Middle East, mostly Syrians fleeing the five-year-long bloody civil war.
IBTimes UK called smugglers pretending to be a Syrian refugee in Turkey looking to get to Europe and ideally the UK, raising concerns about the recent spike in deaths.
But traffickers said the trip was safe and went into detail about exactly how refugees can evade the authorities and how much it would cost.
One Turkish man quoted the rate from Turkey to Greece as £1,460 per person but said children under the age of three travelled for free and under-12s were half price.
Another man who spoke only broken Arabic said: “You leave your money in the office, and we take you to a Greek Island by boat, 30 minutes. You stay there for a day or two, all costs on us including accommodation… then five or six-day travel by boat to Italy.”
He added it is also possible to stay in Greece and not continue the journey to Italy, saying with confidence: “Greece have announced new laws that will provide asylum for Syrian refugees, no need to worry.”
On the safety of the trip, he said: “It will be a small yacht with around 70 to 80 people on board. You are with other families, sometimes five sometimes eight, not alone, don’t worry.”
Not all of the services offered by traffickers involve travel by boat, though. One post from 23 March announces new travel services by air to Canada, Holland, France and Britain.
The price quoted for air travel to Britain was a staggering €14,000, the equivalent of £10,029 per person. Children under 10 are given the concession of half that price.
“The way [this works] is through a regime-issued [Syrian] visa to be collected from the embassy, payment is at arrival in the main office [in Turkey],” the site claimed.
A regime-issued passport for Syrians means the Assad government, still battling an uprising led by rebel forces since 2011, has given its stamp of approval for a person to leave the country. Rebel fighters and their families as well as political dissidents are not allowed this luxury.
In the review section of the page, other accounts, mainly personal, use the space not to review the services of this smuggling company but to advertise their own services arguing competitive prices. “There is a trip from Istanbul to Libya by plane… once you reach Libya you take a boat to Italy,” one profile writes in Arabic providing a phone number for more details.
But a comment on this post shows the grim reality that not all these accounts can be trusted: “They are entrappers, they entrapped me twice,” with another comment posting: “And we die halfway through the sea,” in reference to the recent crisis with the capsizing of a boat carrying immigrants off the coast of Italy killing hundreds.
Syrians fearing for their lives and the lives of their families still look to these services as an escape to freedom in Europe. Out of the estimated nine million Syrians who have fled since March 2011, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) states that around 150,000 have declared asylum in the European Union. But Syrians have been encouraged by the pledge of the UN member states to resettle a further 33,000 people.
Britain has come under scrutiny by human rights groups as the number of refugees accepted into the UK since the start of the Syrian crisis is just 143.