Illegal immigrants posing as tourists are paying up to £10,000 each to fly into Britain as part of a ‘club class’ smuggling service. Organised gangs of people smugglers are targeting holiday flights from the Continent, particularly Greece, to the Irish Republic. The £10,000 cost compares to an average of just £500 to £1,000 for those willing to take their chances on lorries and trains crossing the Channel from Calais to Dover. But the expensive ‘immigration package’, which includes forged passports and visas, has a much higher chance of success, according to officials.

The latest smuggling plan came to light earlier this week after the arrest of a ten-strong gang in Paris. They are believed to have made £500,000 in just nine months successfully smuggling scores of illegal migrants. Based in a flat close to the Gare du Nord Eurostar station, they regularly booked migrants on flights to the Irish Republic. Greece, which is a major transit point to Britain for migrants from Asia, was a popular route. Once in the Republic, the illegal migrants would use the forged papers to enter Britain via domestic flights or ferries.

‘It was the club class service for migrants who had sold their homes and businesses to start a new life in the UK,’ said an officer from the French anti-illegal immigration agency OCRIEST. ‘These were people who were prepared to devote their life’s savings to getting to their Eldorado, and an airborne immigration package was their best option.’

He said tourist flights from Greece to Ireland were not policed as stringently as those on major tourist or business routes and that it was relatively easy for illegal migrants from Asia and Eastern Europe to mingle with planeloads full of Greek and Irish holidaymakers. ‘They are often waved through customs and immigration because they’re not obvious flights for illegal migrants to take,’ the officer said.

‘Another advantage for the migrants is that passports of people resembling them can be stolen or bought in Greece and can then be used on the planes. ‘Immigration procedures are far tougher in France and Britain, and it’s much harder to get hold of forged travel documents. It’s a highly sophisticated route, but one which is still used regularly. ‘Airborne illegal immigration does not come cheap, but for those who can afford it, it’s a much quicker and hassle-free option than travelling all the way to Calais to try to get a place in the back of a lorry.’

The gang, Iraqi and Iranian men aged between 26 and 54, have made full confessions in exchange for a reduction in prison sentences, which could top ten years. They are expected to be charged with a range of people-smuggling offences. Jean-Michel Fauvergue, the head of OCRIEST, said: ‘This gang was extremely well organised and not solely operating on French territory.’

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