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TikTok Trafficking Ad Ban Leads to Drop in Albanians Arriving on Small Boats: Reports

Downing Street has welcomed a TikTok policy change that has reportedly led to a drop in the number of Albanian illegal immigrants arriving in small boats.

Since March, the video platform has proactively blocked posts from people smugglers using the site to advertise illegal crossings to the UK.

According to The Times of London, traffickers were behind thousands of ads for cash-for-crossing services to Britain targeting mostly young Albanians.

The newspaper reported that some of the posts—which included images of Big Ben and Tower Bridge—claimed the dangerous Channel crossings are easy, had “100 percent success” and even offered to allow those being trafficked to pay off thousands of pounds in fees when they reached the UK.

The adverts were previously blamed by the Home Office for helping a huge surge in Albanians crossing the Channel in small boats, with 12,301 arriving last year and making the nationality the second-largest behind Afghans making the trip.

Speaking on Monday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s official spokesman told reporters: “I think we have rightly been clear to social media companies that they do have a responsibility to take down posts and we welcome action from them to counter some of the posts which have been reported.

“Obviously, this is part of the cumulative work that we are taking which is helping to have an impact.”

Search Intervention Function

In a statement released in March, TikTok’s head of trust and safety Kevin Morgan said the platform would be taking “proactive steps” to combat human exploitation.

That included greater cooperation with UK authorities including the National Crime Agency on the sharing of information, and launching a new “search intervention” feature.

When users search for certain words or phrases, they are now directed to expert resources from the London-based STOP THE TRAFFIK group.

Morgan said the resources give users the option to “make a report, find safety tips, and provide details of organisations that can help vulnerable people.”

He added, “The aim of these interventions is to dispel the false promises of these criminals, reminding people that these networks will look to make money from the situation of people escaping conflict, repression and poverty, or seek to put them into future danger.”

Asked by The Epoch Times via email on Monday how many posts suspected of advertising people smuggling services have been removed by TikTok, a spokesperson said data wasn’t available at this point.

“We have long had a zero-tolerance approach to human smuggling and trafficking,” the spokesperson added.

“We remove any content found to violate our Community Guidelines on human exploitation and permanently ban offending accounts.

“We engage closely with law enforcement and industry partners on this issue, and have dedicated significant resources to tackling it—including developing new tools such as the search interventions launched in March.”

Epoch Times Photo
Illegal immigrants in an undated file photo. (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Over 600 Cross in a Day

The reported drop comes as the UK experienced its highest number of illegal immigrants to cross the Channel in a single day this year.

Some 616 people were detected on Sunday, according to Home Office figures released on Monday, passing this year’s previous high of 497 on April 22.

It means the number of crossings in 2023 now stands at a provisional total of 8,313, compared with around 10,000 at the same point last year.

The number who made the crossing in 2022 reached a record 45,755, prompting Sunak to make tackling small boat crossings a priority for his government this year.

Twelve boats were detected crossing the Channel on Sunday, which suggests an average of around 51 people per boat.

A Downing Street spokesman said the numbers “fluctuate on any given day,” adding that when Sunak referred recently to crossings having fallen 20 percent, he was talking about “a five-month average reduction” rather than a snapshot figure.

“We do know that number of crossings fluctuates; equally we know that, on average, the enhanced work with our French counterparts means that you are now more likely to be intercepted and stopped if you attempt to make a crossing than succeed in crossing the Channel,” the spokesman continued.

“There is a great deal of work going on which is stopping these criminal gangs in their tracks.

“But, clearly, crossings are continuing and that is because we have not been able to put in place our full plans; and obviously there is a great deal of work across government to that end.”

The figures come on the day a report by a cross-party group of MPs suggested Albanian immigrants to the UK are unlikely to be at risk in their own country or require asylum.

However, more needs to be done to support the Albanian victims of people smuggling, especially women, the Home Affairs Select Committee said.

The committee added there is no clear basis for the UK to accept thousands of asylum applications from Albanian citizens.

Migration data previously revealed that more than a quarter of the 45,755 people who crossed the English Channel in small boats in 2022 were Albanian, most of whom made an asylum claim.

The number has dropped sharply in the first few months of 2023, however.

Stephen Kinnock MP, Labour’s shadow immigration minister, warned that the crossings were expected to increase over the summer months.

“With the weather improving and the number of crossings increasing, Rishi Sunak needs to roll up his sleeves and start doing the hard graft, rather than ploughing on with the headline-chasing, government-by-gimmick approach which landed him in this mess in the first place,” he said.

“In short, he needs to stop the boast and start stopping the boats.

“Labour has a comprehensive five-point plan to defeat the criminal smuggler gangs, end the dangerous crossings, clear the growing asylum backlog, and fix an asylum system broken by the Conservatives.”

PA Media contributed to this report.

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