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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 September 2007, 11:54 GMT 12:54 UK
Transcript - Destination Europe




DATE: 10:09:07

JEREMY VINE: Hello I'm Jeremy Vine and this is Panorama. Washed up on our doorstep, Africans crossing oceans to claim a share in Europe's wealth. Men, women, even young children risking death knowing there's no going back.

COASTGUARD: Captain, I don't see your flag!

VINE: Now we re-trace their steps to discover whose making money from this mass migration shipping people as if they were just another type of cargo.

PAUL KENYON: You're a people trafficker aren't you. What you do is, you smuggle people..


KENYON: ..around the world don't you.

VINE: If you've been holidaying in the Mediterranean or the Canaries this summer you may have encountered an uncomfortable truth. Illegal immigration does not begin at Gatwick or Dover but on the beaches of our holiday resorts, and whatever is done to stop them coming, people from across Africa and the developing world are irresistibly heading our way.

PAUL KENYON: A boat from another age bringing people from another world. On the beaches of Southern Europe our calm interrupted by a reality most of us prefer not to confront.

How did you know what direction to go in?

ATIKU The man tell us, he give us something like watch.. big he tell us..

KENYON: Like what, like a compass?

ATIKU: ?yes round like clock.


KENYON: The people traffickers told them the crossing would take less than an hour, it's a 120 miles, one went with them in a boat like this to navigate briefly.

VITO When the boats move they left you.. he jump inside the water..

KENYON: He left you.. he left you?

VITO: Yes, and swim back. So that one of us carry on with the boat.. slowly, going slowly, slowly.

KENYON: The pilot swam back to shore and they headed off on what was to become one of the most dramatic survival stories from this year's crossings. The weather changed, the waves pounding the boat.

How big were they?

VITO: Huh! I can't really explain, it can even move a house, the waves, it can move a house.

ATIKU: It just going up and down, like this, roughly, just pushing us here and then like this, and then there's a wind too....

VITO: So I shout "Jesus save me.. Jesus save me".

KENYON: There were 27 of them on board. None had been to sea before.

Would you have been able to swim for a while?

ATIKU: Nobody know how to swim, only God.. only God help us nobody.. only God. So when we..

KENYON: None of you.. none of you can swim.

ATIKU: Nobody.

KENYON: Seven days out they spot this commercial fishing trawler. The captain refuses to take them on board, fearing a change in course could jeopardise his lucrative catch of tuna destined for the sushi bars of Japan.

VITO: Maybe he was afraid of us, he's afraid of.. of black people because we are 27, we are all blacks, no white man in sight, so I thought maybe he was afraid, that was what I think.

PAUL KENYON: The migrants' boat started taking on water, they made for a huge fishing net being towed behind the trawler. They clambered onto one of these, it's a tuna cage miles away from land and there they were, exhausted, unable to swim, stranded. And the weather wasn't like this, the waves and the wind were starting to pick up.

VITO: Inside the net there was big, big fish, even I was afraid of those fish.

KENYON: What did you think they would do?

VITO: If anyone fall inside they would eat us because those fish were very big.

KENYON: The trawler men did radio for assistance to the nearest countries but no one wanted more migrants, so they clung to the net 80 miles out at sea. The Mediterranean - to us a holiday playground, to the African boat people a hostile barrier between them and a better life. The Italian coastguard is taking us to a small island, it's where the men on the tuna cage were heading along with thousands of others. It's July, calm seas and the busiest crossing time.

There seems to be a lot of activity. What's happening?

LT CHIANELLA: We have a suspicious target in this position.

KENYON: A suspicious target.

MAN: We are going to look at the suspicious target.

KENYON: Why are they suspicious?

Italian Coast Guard
They're suspicious because on this small boat there's a lot of people, there's women, men also children in not a normal condition.

KENYON: A boat of tourists had reported the vessel and were diverted, but finding them in fading light in half a million square kilometres of Italian water is going to be problematic.

It's very dark now so we're using night vision on the camera so you can make out what's going on, and the Captain says we're something like 20-30 minutes from the target vessel.

The radar trace turns out to be a fishing boat. The migrants are lost at sea for another night. This is where they're all heading, the Italian holiday island of Lampedusa, make it here and they've made it to European soil. It's tantalisingly close to the departure points in Africa. They come from all across the Continent, travelling northwards to the coast, often Libya. From there the boats they're using could take as little as two days to get to Lampedusa. The next morning we're out on patrol. Daylight reveals the missing boat, another coastguard's already there, it's taken the migrants on board, hungry, dehydrated and relieved to have been found.

This is the boat they came in on and imagine 40 people crammed into this pretty small dinghy for three nights and three days - and you can see a lot of this was water canisters and fuel and they've got that much fuel left. (indicates an inch)

KENYON: With us is Laura Boldrini from the United Nations. She's seen this route grow from nothing 5 years ago into one of the key crossing points.

UN High Commission for Refugees
You know, in these small boats, you find people fleeing from poverty, but you can also find people escaping from persecution, civil wars, lack of respect of human rights and these are asylum seekers or refugees already. So I mean, the flows are mixed, this is why it is difficult.. it is difficult to deal with this and for Europe this is a real challenge.

KENYON: They're taken to Lampedusa, but they can't stay, the island would be overwhelmed; 20,000 arrived here last year, that's four times more than the entire population. And it's no longer just fit young men, there are women with babies less than a year old. They'll be detained briefly at the islands overcrowded holding centre, then moved to mainland Italy, a third of them will be given refugee status the rest will be declared economic migrants. We've been on Lampedusa now for a day and a half and we've just managed to hitch a ride with Customs & Excise, it's far quicker boat than any of the others we've been on so it should one of the first to get there and the Navy are out there this morning already and the coastguard. It's incredibly busy out there. These missions are about policing Europe's southern frontier, but in reality they can't turn the boats away. Look at this one, dangerously overloaded, sending it back could be a death sentence for all those on board.

We've counted about a hundred people on board there and they've probably come the route from Libya, which is the favourite one. It's a 120 miles from there to here. And I mean remember, Lampedusa is only a small island. If they'd missed it - who knows? These people come from thousands of miles apart from Eritrea in the East to Sierra Leone in the West, moving northwards like a force of nature.

BOLDRINI: We experienced in the past a situation where people were adrift for two weeks and they survived only because dead bodies were available on boat, and they use them as a protection against the sun, and against the cold in the night.

KENYON: They covered themselves in dead bodies.

BOLDRINI: Yes.. yes.. yes.

15th August 2007

KENYON: The numbers reported dead or missing here this year are the highest ever, estimated at nearly 500. Last month on one day alone 14 dead bodies were found floating in the sea off Lampedusa, they're buried anonymously, their families only guessing their fate from the months of silence. A graveyard for boats in an isolated corner of the island, these have all been used to make the crossing, some were successful, others found empty.

Italian Coast Guard
An empty boat doesn't tell us much about what's happened, the bad news comes when we find floating corpses. Of course we are particularly upset when it's children's bodies that we find.

KENYON: Do you ever wonder what's happened with some of those people whose lives you saved where, they are now, what they're doing?

NIOSI: I remember extreme cases when we believed some of them were dead, but we managed to bring them back to life. I met some of those migrants again years later and they had become different people.

KENYON: He took us out on the route he's been patrolling for the last ten years, in that time he's rescued 70,000 African boat people. These days the people traffickers are supplying life jackets but they're not what they seem.

NIOSI: It looks like they have the proper life jackets, but they don't, those vests are no good. They are very dangerous because they fill with water, become heavy and drag the person down instead of saving them.

KENYON: All these migrants have come through the hands of people traffickers. They've been charged around 700 a time, that's more than a years salary for many, and other family members will often chip in to help them.

How many days are you on the sea?

MIGRANT: 7 days.

KENYON: 7 days!

MIGRANT: 7 days.

KENYON: It seems their pilot became ill during the journey.

MIGRANT: After two days he become mad, at that time he died.

KENYON: He died?

MIGRANT He died.

KENYON: Did you throw him overboard?


KENYON: It might be true, but it's also what the people traffickers tell them to say, it helps deflects questions from the Italian authorities. The men hanging on the tuna cage were now into their second day, they were thrown some water by the trawler crew but they were desperately weak and dehydrated.

Even some of my friend told me that he's going to jump into the water to kill himself. I said, "No don't kill yourself, wait to see what is going to happen because I know God can save us."

KENYON: Then the roar of the waves was interrupted.


ATIKU: We started hearing noise like.. something noise like we don't know, so all of us at a time: "Shhh? everybody shhh, be quiet, let us hear where this noise from".

KENYON: An Italian Naval vessel, in the area by chance, had despatched a helicopter.

How much longer do you think they would have been able to survive?

Italian Navy
Well with the sea condition at that moment probably no more than 2 or 3 hours, probably if we could have not succeeded in.. at that moment, the day after we would.. we wouldn't find them no more on the cage.

KENYON: Remarkably, all 27 of them survived.

We started laughing, I mean I feel happy totally, we feel happy, so before you climb we are just giving you some Italian soda, so that all of us do feel maybe today we survive.

KENYON: After nine days at sea they were finally brought into Lampedusa. There's no ceremony. They are, despite what they've been through, just more migrants. Like the rest, they're moved through the island's holding centre to the airport, and from there to a detention centre on mainland Italy.

This is the third plane load of people today, each one has about 100 in it, so we're talking every day 3 or 4 hundred people that are going through Lampedusa and into mainland Italy. Those judged refugees will be able to stay, the rest will cling on and face a lifetime evading the authorities. The clamour to reach Europe is creating a new type of people trafficking.

Italian Coast Guard footage

COAST GUARD: What's your port of destination and the time of arrival?

CAPTAIN: Odessa? Odessa, Captain, in 25 days.

KENYON: We're in the Atlantic on another clandestine route into Europe. The departure points are along the West Coast of Africa and the target is a place British holidaymakers know well, Spain's Canary Islands. It's the most popular route, last year 30,000 made it here. Canary Island officials estimate 6000 died trying. Now there's a new European agency to help countries like Spain and Italy on the immigration frontline, it's called Frontex, and it patrols right down to where the migrants depart on the West Coast of Africa. It borrows planes and boats from EU member states and stops suspicious vessels before they make it to European water. In March this year it made its most dramatic discovery yet.

Italian Coast Guard footage

D'AGOSTINO: This is Italian coastguard patrolling, you are channel 16, do you read me, over?

KENYON: The man trying to make contact is Captain D'Agostino. On the suspicious vessel someone appears near the bridge.

Italian Coast Guard
There were some suspicious elements, no flag revealing the vessel's nationality was flown, and it was moving at an extremely slow speed.

I don't see your flag, what's your flag captain?

CAPTAIN: My flag is North Korea.

KENYON: Frontex tried to contact the North Korean authorities for permission to board - nothing. It took 24 hours of diplomatic effort involving four countries to get the go-ahead.

D'AGOSTINO: It was clearly a dangerous situation, my men were armed with pistols at their waists and three were carrying guns with rubber bullets.

Italian Coast Guard footage

KENYON: Uncertain what they might find they head for the 'Happy Day'. Once on board they find six Georgian crew and hold them on deck, hands bound. They now begin a search, cabin by cabin - then this! (ship's hold crammed with migrants)

D'AGOSTINO: The situation was very serious. They were in very unhygienic conditions, we were worried about them suffering down there.

AUTHORITIES: No children? No female? no female?

MIGRANT: [gestures 'no']

KENYON: It's a mother ship - meeting smaller boats which smuggle people ashore on an industrial scale, it's carrying 345 migrants, but the vast majority are not African. They've come from half way round the world, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, just to get to the boarding point in Africa.

Where were they making for do you think?

D'AGOSTINO: The commander claimed that they were navigating towards the Mediterranean shores, from there he said the migrants planned to continue their journey by land towards the British Isles.

KENYON: The Italian Captain took control of the vessel for two days, but finally he only had the authority to send it back towards the West African Coast, free to try again.

What ultimately happened to 'Happy Day' do you think, once you'd waved it goodbye?

D'AGOSTINO: We simply lost trace of it, probably some of them started a new journey on another vessel.

KENYON: Migrants say that mother ships like this are heading for Europe nearly every week, but this is the first that's ever been found. We'd be seeing it again. It had been intercepted off the Coast of Senegal. The capital Dakar has become a major hub for people traffickers. It's a ten day journey from here to the Canary Islands, migrants leave the beaches by cover of night. Amongst the skilled sailors of the fishing communities a network of facilitators has developed. The boats may look primitive but they can stay at sea for days on end. A few streets back from the beach we find a group of women united by their experience of this dangerous route. So this is your son here?

MRS DIQUF: My son, yes.

KENYON: And how old was he there?

DIQUF: Twenty-seven years old.

KENYON: So this is just before they left?

DIQUF: Before they left.

KENYON: Her son, a fisherman, went with dozens of others in one of the huge boats we'd seen on the beach. They sailed north from here, hugging the Coast of West Africa and stopping to call her before making the final push for the Canaries.

He tells me? I ask him on the phone: "How many days do you stay in the sea before you come to Europe?". He tells me: "two weeks".

KENYON: Two weeks at sea?

DIQUF: Two weeks have passed - I don't hear him. One month - I don't hear him.

KENYON: So what are you thinking?

DIQUF: Bad things. I begin to see bad thing, maybe my son isn't alive, maybe my son has died, maybe he's in the prison in Spain.

KENYON: Then she got a phone call from one of the fathers.

DIQUF: And he tells me my son, these 81 boys of our village.

KENYON: Eighty one?

DIQUF: Eighty one, in the same boat, are down the sea, because big waves fights the boat and they lost their life.

KENYON: Here they were, a final photo before setting sail, full of optimism, all 81 of them died. Now the mothers gather to comfort each other, all the women who come here have lost sons or fathers trying to cross to Europe, there are 350 members in this one village. The men are leaving here to send money home. In Senegal about half a billion dollars a year is wired home by migrants. We wanted to find a trafficker to talk to us on camera but it was proving difficult. The authorities have started clamping down, making arrests. But a contact arranged a meeting for us on a local beach at night. It's with a fisherman who's found it more lucrative to carry migrants, transferring them to bigger boats waiting off the coast, now he wants to stop.

MAN: When we decide to organise these kind of trip to Spain we first rent a house where the migrants are gathered then we transfer them by groups of 15 from a small boat to a bigger vessel.

KENYON: And how much did you get paid for doing this?

MAN: I used to receive a sum of money of 200 or 250 per trip.

KENYON: But it's illegal, firstly, and secondly you've put people's lives at risk here, haven't you, because a lot of people die doing this journey?

MAN: Life is very tough here, we sometimes have to take risks, it's very difficult to find a job, even if you secure one you don't earn much in order to help your family. Unlike here, jobs are well paid in Europe.

KENYON: These are boat people leaving Senegal by cover of night last year. Now with Frontex just off the coast the Senegalese say these scenes are becoming rarer. We're still trying to track down the cargo boat 'Happy Day', the one hiding 345 migrants heading for the UK. Whilst we're in Senegal a contact says he's found it. It's docked in a harbour 300 miles away in the capital of Guinea, Conakry. It's one of the poorest countries in the region, with an authoritarian regime and sporadic civil unrest. We make our way to the harbour. They don't like people filming here. Amongst the rusting hulks we spot 'Happy Day'. The captain who'd been hiding the migrants is still on board, Captain Khachidze, a Georgian, caught off Senegal, and now moored in Guinea, a man not easy to trace.

KENYON: Do you recognise this? You're a people trafficker, aren't you? What you do is you smuggle people?


KENYON: ? around the world, don't you?

KHACHIDZE: No, no, no, no.

KENYON: You put them in the hold here, they're like cattle the way that you treat them and you make money out of them, don't you? Can we have a look down here?

The Captain told us he took orders from an anonymous contact on a satellite phone, the authorities can't trace his bosses.

Where is the boss?

Boss - I don't know. Never know name, what his family, what his number telephone - I don't know

KENYON: But where, which country?


KENYON: Which country?

KHACHIDZE: Country - Russia, Russia.

KENYON: He's Russian?

KHACHIDZE: Russia, Russia, yes.

KENYON: Is he Russian mafia?

KHACHIDZE: Maybe mafia, Russian mafia, maybe Conakry Mafia, maybe, I don't know, I'm small, small, people monsieur. I'm Captain, me speak: "go", I go. Me speak: "come back", I come back. You understand? It is just big, big, big, mafia, big mafia.

KENYON: He agreed to take us down into the hold where the migrants lived for 8 days.

So there's three? more than 300, I think 345 migrants.


KENYON: 350?

KHACHIDZE: Yes, yes, yes.

KENYON: You could be right.


KENYON: 350.


KENYON: It's a lot of people down here, all crammed in like cattle.

KHACHIDZE: Cattle, yes.

KENYON: He says he brought them all back to port but the authorities say he turned up with an empty boat.

KHACHIDZE: Yes, yes, yes, big mafia.

KENYON: Somebody has made around a million dollars out of this human cargo, bringing migrants from India to a boat off West Africa, under a North Korean flag, all apparently under the control of Russian gangsters. The young Africans marooned on the tuna net are now in Naples after being released from a mainland detention centre. They were given their train fare, nothing more, and had only the clothes they are standing in. Because of what happened to them they're allowed to stay in Italy for a year. They're waiting for the arrival of a friend who was marooned with them.

MIGRANTS: [Friends reunite and hug] Hey, wow.

KENYON: Most economic migrants are told to leave immediately, but with no money to buy a ticket they remain in Europe. We are sitting here and it's a very kind of wealthy area of Europe and it's sort of an opulent port like this, with all the beautiful yachts around, but realistically, I mean, you can't speak Italian, you haven't got any money, you haven't got anywhere to live, so what future is there for you here do you think?

VITO: Yes, for now I know it is going to be difficult but as time goes on I know it is going to be well, we keep on learning the language, I know as time goes on we will be perfect in the language.

KENYON: But the majority leave Italy and melt away into the rest of Europe.

Now Atiku, ultimately where in Europe do you want to go, and be honest about that?

ATIKU: Ok, to me I'm now in Italy now but where I'd prefer for me in time is to go to Britain.

JEREMY VINE: Paul Kenyan will be back later in the Autumn to see if the men from the tuna nets are still heading our way and he'll be asking those responsible for maintaining Europe's borders how and if they can stem the tide of immigration.

Next week I'll be reporting on what police officers really think of their job and why they say clear up rates are not all they seem.

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