Smugglers are using more inventive methods to move illegal immigrants around the world, warns the International Transport Intermediaries Club
(ITIC). Ship agents are particularly at risk and may face heavy fines if they fall victim to the smugglers' scams.
Earlier this year, ITIC warned ship agents about migrant smugglers who send illegal immigrants as 'crew' for ships that don't exist. While this remains ongoing problem, the methods employed by the smugglers now appear to have become more imaginative.
For example, a ship agent in Portugal recently received a request to send a letter to the French embassy in Portugal asking
for visas for two men who were allegedly travelling to Portugal to discuss future business with the agent. The exact words used were 'finalisation of agency contract and also development of shipping business.' The agent, having seen the warning from ITIC, became suspicious when the smugglers continually harassed him by telephone in an attempt to rush him into writing the letter. The Portuguese
agent then contacted ITIC who confirmed that the same 'company' had approached another agent two months previously about a fake crew change.
"Agents should view all requests for letters to embassies for visas, or confirmations to airlines that it is 'OK' to board, with suspicion," says
, claims director at ITIC. "As ITIC has managed to warn ship agents of the fake 'crew' approach, the fraudsters will obviously have to find other ways to smuggle illegal immigrants and this is one of them.
They will no doubt try other methods in the future," she warns. Agents who get caught up in the scam could find themselves facing huge repatriation and accommodation costs as well as substantial fines from local immigration