'TikTok traffickers' must face criminal penalties says Tory MP

Natalie Elphicke urged the Government to recognise advertising Channel crossings to migrants on Facebook and other platforms as a crime
Natalie Elphicke urged the Government to recognise advertising Channel crossings to migrants on Facebook and other platforms as a crime

TikTok traffickers have been using social media to advertise small boat crossings to migrants wanting to cross the English Channel

Published

“TikTok traffickers” who use social media to advertise small boat crossings to migrants must face criminal penalties, ministers have been told.

Conservative MP Natalie Elphicke urged the Government to recognise advertising Channel crossings to migrants on Facebook and other platforms as a crime, during a Commons debate on the Online Safety Bill.

The Dover MP, whose constituency is at the forefront of the migrant crisis in the UK, suggested criminalising the online advertising would save lives and help to stem the business model of trafficking groups.

The amendment would create a new criminal offence of “intentionally sharing a photograph or film that facilitates or promotes modern slavery or illegal immigration”.
The amendment would create a new criminal offence of “intentionally sharing a photograph or film that facilitates or promotes modern slavery or illegal immigration”.

Urging the Commons to back her amendment to the Bill, Ms Elphicke said: “New clause 55 will tackle the TikTok traffickers and help prevent people from risking their lives taking these journeys across the English Channel.”

The amendment would create a new criminal offence of “intentionally sharing a photograph or film that facilitates or promotes modern slavery or illegal immigration”.

It has the support of a group of Tory backbenchers, including former ministers Sir John Hayes and Tim Loughton.

Ms Elphicke told MPs: “Advertising in this context is not done through an advert in the local paper, it is by the posting of a video online and photos online.

“Nationalities who use the Channel crossing routes are from an astonishing array of countries. From Eritrea and Vietnam, to Iraq and Iran, but they all end up arriving on boats which leave from France.”

The Tory MP highlighted the “massive increase in the number of Albanians crossing the Channel in small boats”, and said it had become “easy to find criminal gangs posting in Albanian on TikTok with videos showing cheery migrants with thumbs up on dinghies scooting across the Channel and motoring into Britain with ease”.

She told ministers that “action is needed within the remit of this Bill to protect people from the people smugglers and save lives in the Channel”, and claimed: “TikTok, WhatsApp and Facebook have all been identified as platforms actively used by the people smugglers”.

Ms Elphicke said that her amendment would “ensure that people here in the UK who promote illegal immigration and modern slavery will face a stronger deterrent and will for the first time face real criminal penalties for their misdeeds”.

She added: “It will make it harder for the people smugglers to sell their wares, it will help to protect people who would be exploited and put at risk by these criminal gangs.

“Risks to life and injury, the risk of modern slavery, risks of being swept into further crime both abroad and here in the UK are very real.

“It is another tool in the toolbox to tackle illegal immigration and prevent modern slavery.”

TikTok traffickers have been using social media to advertise small boat crossings to migrants wanting to cross the English Channel
TikTok traffickers have been using social media to advertise small boat crossings to migrants wanting to cross the English Channel

Culture minister Paul Scully said: “I will continue to work with her closely as the Bill continues its passage and ahead of its consideration in the Lords to ensure this legislation delivers the desired impact on the important issues of illegal immigration and modern slavery.

“The legislation will give our law enforcement agencies and social media companies the powers and guidance they need to stop the promotion of organised criminal activity on social media.”

Ms Elphicke intervened and asked the minister to confirm that “in line with the discussion that’s been had and the comments that have been made that the Government will be looking to bring back amendments should those be needed in line with this new clause”.

Mr Scully said: “We will work together with her and with my colleagues in the Home Office to make sure this legislation works well in the way that she intends it to do.”