Ruthless traffickers have set up a base in Belgium to smuggle migrants across the Channel.
The Daily Mail has established that organised crime networks calling themselves the ‘boat mafia’ have moved in to Brussels to profit from a huge rise in migrants.
Some 1,000 arrivals are using the city as an alternative staging post to France from which to plan their entry to the UK.
Every bed in the hostels, hotels and charity refuges across Brussels is full, with a six-week wait.
Twice a day about 600 migrants queue up along the canal quayside in Brussels for free meals, pictured
About 600 migrants sleep in Maximilien park near the main train station. Others sleep on a quayside by the central canal.
At night the smugglers move in, offering a trip across the Channel in an inflatable dinghy for as little as £500.
Migrants told the Mail they have been offered places on bigger boats for a ‘more guaranteed crossing’ costing between £2,000 and £3,000 per person.
Some have started selling cannabis and cocaine to save up enough money.
Migrants rob other migrants at knifepoint for the fare, according to a group from Afghanistan.
Abuzar Afzali, 30, who is from a village outside Kabul, said: ‘The park is a dangerous place at night. There are men with knives there and sometimes the boat mafia come.
At night the smugglers move in, offering a trip across the Channel in an inflatable dinghy for as little as £500. Pictured, migrants are brought to Dover harbour by Border Patrol
‘I want to pay them what they ask for so I can get to the UK, but I don’t have the money yet. Some sell drugs to get the money. These bad men – the boat mafia – are the only way.’
The emergence of a new front in the trafficking market – run mainly by Albanian or Kurdish gangs – will be deeply troubling for the Home Office, which is facing an investigation into its handling of the crisis by the Commons home affairs committee.
This year more than 4,000 migrants have made illegal crossings compared with 1,850 during the whole of last year.
Campaigners estimated this year’s total could reach 7,500.
Most trips start from France, but a growing number of migrants feel they have a better chance of success from Belgium.
The Mail witnessed the scale of the charitable operation to feed, clothe and provide basic medical treatment to migrants.
Twice a day about 600 queue up along the canal quayside for free meals.
One volunteer said: ‘There is a real mix of people who want to discover your beautiful country.
They are mostly economic migrants, rather than refugees. Now there are more and more of them. It’s hard to feed them all.’
Most are young men from Africa, while a few come from Afghanistan, Syria, Iran and the Palestinian territories.
Enayatullah Safi said he took a year to walk from his home in the Kapisa province near Kabul in Afghanistan to western Europe.
The 24-year-old welder said: ‘I have been in Brussels for a week and I have been sleeping on the streets because the charities have no beds left.
This year more than 4,000 migrants have made illegal crossings compared with 1,850 during the whole of last year. Coastal patrol vessel HMC Speedwell, pictured
‘Most people here want to get to England. That is their dream. But it is difficult to get there, because we can’t afford to pay the boat mafia.
‘I had to leave my home and family because of the Taliban.
‘They wanted me to help blow people up by welding explosive bombs into bicycles. I would not do that.’
Another migrant told how he spent two days clinging to the underside of a lorry to reach western Europe.
He said: ‘Two of my friends who did this with me are dead because they fell asleep while holding on under the lorry. They fell out and died in the fall.’
The Belgian route came under the spotlight last year after 39 Vietnamese migrants died inside a refrigerated container which was shipped from the port of Zeebrugge to Purfleet, Essex.
Mehdi Kassou, who runs a refugee charity in Brussels, said: ‘We are stuck in a situation that inevitably leads people to their death or into the hands of traffickers who lead them to their death.
‘Smugglers could not give a damn about the fate of migrants.’