Illegal migrants are using cargo and passenger ferry routes from Bilbao to the United Kingdom as a “backdoor” to the country, according to an investigation.Around a hundred mostly Albanian migrants have established a camp around the port in the Basque capital, from which they attempt to infiltrate the ferries which run to Portsmouth four times a week, and cargo ships which run to Poole twice a week, The Times reports.
Police have stopped at least 1,765 people attempting the journey so far in 2017 — up from 370 for the whole of 2016 — of whom 800 were Albanians, 170 were Afghans, 50 were Iraqis, and 35 were Pakistanis, with Moroccans, Syrians, Iranians, and repeat offenders making up the remainder.
Albanians dominate the camp, and Albanian people-trafficking gangs are said to run the route, charging migrants up to €2,000 (£1,842) to facilitate their attempts to enter Britain.
A police source told The Times that “most of the Albanians had a criminal past and were involved with gangs”.
Despite an apparently high interception rate, one of the migrants interviewed by the newspaper boasted: “I will try until I get through. Nothing will stop me. It is good money in Britain.”
Twenty-year-old Krist Nikaj had previously been discovered on the ferry service to Poole by the British authorities and was sent back to Spain, but had simply returned to the Bilbao encampment.
The increasing popularity of the route has been credited in part to the relatively lax attitude of the Spanish authorities, compared to the authorities serving more famous illegal migrant launch pads such as Calais, France.
Entering the port in Calais without authorisation is a crime, but in Bilbao it is only an administrative offence “equivalent to a parking violation” — so migrants attempt to board vessels again and again.
Brittany Ferries, which runs the services, complained “It is a fact that Bilbao is being systematically targeted by highly organised Albanian gangs”, and asked for increased security.