NEWS AND COMMENT: In a further attempt to slow down the large number of illegal migrants crossing the English Channel from northern France to Kent in rubber dinghies provided by people smugglers, the British government is in discussions with Bulgaria and Turkey in seizing rubber dinghies being smuggled across the Bulgarian/Turkish border at a border crossing which is a main route between the Middle East and Europe, Hamzabeyli crossing in eastern Bulgaria.
It is believed that this is the first time that dogs have been trained to sniff out rubber, specifically the sort of rubber employed to make large rubber dinghies employed by the people smugglers in northern France.
Clearly, it’s one way of curbing the flow of illegal immigrants. If the people smugglers can’t get their hands on boats, then they can’t smuggle people across.
The dogs were trained by the National Crime Agency (NCA) which commissioned chemists to analyse the compounds which make up the rubber in the manufacture of the dinghies and then they distilled it down to a scent which they dubbed, “Eau de small boats”.
The NCA also trained Bulgarian officials on how to work with the dogs. They gave a demonstration to Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister, when he visited this border checkpoint this week. He has signed an agreement with Bulgaria to combat people smuggling.
The NCA director of threat leadership, Chris Farrimond, said that dogs can be trained to smell up to 5 scents. This would normally be explosives, drugs, firearms and sometimes money but they came up with this particular odour for rubber boats. The scent can be bottled and therefore used to train the dogs.
So far, two German shorthaired pointers, Anya and Adele, have been trained and stationed at what is described as the world’s second busiest land crossing.
More dogs could be deployed to other border checkpoints across Europe if this trial proves effective. There is a growing recognition by EU governments that the best way to stop people smuggling in northern Europe is to tackle the problem in southern Europe, at source, which would imply that it might be tackled in northern Africa although this will present additional problems.
Turkey is a key source of the boats where they are constructed in backstreet factories using materials and hardware imported from China, such as engines. The engines are also being seized at this border point.
The normal M.O. for the smugglers is to transport the dinghies and the engines by lorries and vans to Germany where they are stored ready for operation in northern France.
In the early days of this kind of people smuggling, the boats were transported openly as commercial products but since then everything has changed and border force and law enforcement agencies across Europe have started to take a tougher approach and seize the products.
This has resulted in the gangs hiding the items in the holds of lorries where they need to be detected and seized.
Mr Jenrick said that it was critical to prevent these items from reaching northern Europe at an early stage in their journey from Turkey. He added that Bulgaria has proved to be a good partner to the UK and are routinely seizing boats and engines.
The report is that the boats are poorly constructed and safety vests also imported along this route are uncertified because the foam inside them is absorbent.