Rishi Sunak unveils tech partnership to crack down on illegal migration

Figures from the UK's NCA claim that over 90 percent of online content linked to people smuggling is taken down when social media companies are notified.

London: Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has unveiled a voluntary partnership between social media companies and the UK government to accelerate action to tackle people smuggling content online, such as criminals sharing information about illegal English Channel crossings.

In an announcement over the weekend, Sunak said the move would help meet his “stop the boats” target of clamping down on illegal migrants being charged large sums by human traffickers to make dangerous crossings across the high seas.

The online content being targeted by the new partnership would cover discount offers for groups of people, free spaces for children, offers of false documents and false claims of safe passage all of which the government says target vulnerable people for profit and put people’s lives at risk through dangerous and illegal journeys.

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“To stop the boats, we have to tackle the business model of vile people smugglers at source,” said Sunak in a statement released by 10 Downing Street.

“That means clamping down on their attempts to lure people into making these illegal crossings and profit from putting lives at risk. This new commitment from tech firms will see us redouble our efforts to fight back against these criminals, working together to shut down their vile trade,” he said.

Figures from the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) claim that over 90 percent of online content linked to people smuggling is taken down when social media companies are notified. The new partnership between tech firms and the UK government is aimed at driving forward efforts to further crackdown on the tactics being used by criminal gangs who abuse the internet to lure people into paying for crossings.

“Heartless people smugglers are using social media to promote their despicable services and charge people thousands of pounds to make the illegal journey into the UK in unsafe boats. They must not succeed,” said UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman.

“This strengthened collaboration between the National Crime Agency, government and social media companies will ensure content promoting dangerous and illegal Channel crossings doesn’t see the light of day,” she said.

Under the new initiative, social media companies will look to increase cooperation with the NCA to find and remove criminal content and step up the sharing of best practices both across the industry and with law enforcement. Alongside the partnership, the government will also set up a new centre led by the NCA and Home Office to increase the capacity and capability of law enforcement to identify this content on social media platforms.

Known as the “Online Capability Centre”, backed by 11 million pound state funding, its work will focus on undermining and disrupting the business model of organised crime groups responsible for illegal crossings and using the internet to facilitate these journeys by intensifying efforts to combat their online activity.

The move comes as UK media reports indicate that the first set of migrants will begin being housed on a barge docked in Portland, south-west England. The Bibby Stockholm’ large floating accommodation has remained empty as reported health and safety concerns of housing asylum seekers aboard were assessed.

Now, reports indicate that the government believes the barge is ready to house migrants as part of efforts to cut down on soaring British taxpayer-funded hotel bills.

Sunak has made “stop the boats” one of his government’s top priorities as he pledged to clamp down on migrants landing up on the country’s shores illegally and facilitating their swift removal through so-called returns agreements with European countries such as Albania.

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