Theresa May claims traffickers are using Facebook to advertise 'travel-agent style services' encouraging thousands of African migrants to cross the Me
Theresa May claims traffickers are using Facebook to advertise ‘travel-agent style services’ encouraging thousands of African migrants to cross the Mediterranean to get to Europe.
The adverts show different prices and routes – while one even offers a discount for children.
They make no mention of the perils of the journey which claims hundreds of lives each year.
Instead they suggest that the crossing will be made on well fitted-out ships, or even luxury yachts.
The Prime Minister briefed leaders in Salzburg on British operations which have identified more than 500 adverts posted by people smugglers on the social media platform in the last year.
British sources said human traffickers were using Facebook to advertise ‘travel agent-style’ services.
In reality, thousands have died in recent years while trying to make the crossing on overcrowded, badly maintained boats, which often lack the most basic safety equipment.
Some boats even set sail without enough fuel – with those on board relying on being rescued.
A British source said: ‘These adverts are presented as reassuring and create an illusion this is safe, normal travel – rather than the reality of being packed on to a rigid inflatable or a small boat without safety jackets.’
British authorities identified a total of 539 online people smuggling adverts last year. Officials worked with Europol’s Internet Referral Unit and the social media firms to get the adverts blocked.
But Mrs May last night told EU leaders that European governments needed to take a co-ordinated stand to persuade social media firms to take the issue seriously, and to prevent adverts blocked in one country simply popping up in another.
She warned that Europe was only as strong as its ‘weakest link’.
Facebook said last month that it had doubled the size of its ‘safety and security’ team and was investing in technology to help it crack down.
‘People smuggling is illegal and any ads, posts, pages or groups that co-ordinate this activity are not allowed on Facebook,’ a spokesman said.
British sources said that although Facebook and other firms usually responded to requests to take down adverts for people smuggling, they were not yet being pro-active.
Although word of mouth remains the main method for advertising the illegal operations, online advertising is playing an increasing role.
‘If we can find them easily then obviously social media companies including Facebook can find them just as easily,’ one source said. ‘There’s a lot more that social media companies could do.’
The number of migrants crossing has fallen sharply this year, but tens of thousands are still attempting it.
In the first seven months of this year almost 75,000 people made it to Europe, with another 1,524 reported dead or missing, according to the International Organisation for Migration.
The Prime Minister told EU leaders that Europe faced a ‘generational challenge’ in dealing with mass migration, and that the UK would remain fully committed to helping tackle the issue after Brexit.