Paris (AFP) – A suspected gang leader has been arrested for a network that smuggled up to 10,000 people on small boats across the English Channel to Britain with 38 others in a massive police operation across Europe.
In addition to the arrests, authorities said Wednesday that police found 135 boats in places including a German farm and Dutch warehouses, more than 1,000 life jackets, outboard motors, bundles of oars and money used for smuggling.
“We believe this is the largest operation of its kind against this threat,” Matt Rivers of Britain’s National Crime Agency told a news conference. “I hope he sends a message.”
Five countries and EU police and justice agencies coordinated the operationThis resulted in 18 arrests in Germany, nine in France, six in Britain and six in the Netherlands. The process is ongoing.
Rivers said the suspected group’s leader is a 26-year-old Iranian Kurd. No other details were immediately disclosed.
Rivers expected a decrease in the number of crossings of the canal as a result, despite years of increasingly stringent measures by British and French police. It did little to deter people intent on attempting the perilous journey to reach the UK
More than 28,000 people have fled conflict or extreme poverty In Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq or elsewhere he reached Britain by canal last year, many in canoes and other fragile boats crossing one of the world’s largest shipping lanes. That was up from 8,500 in 2020.
Dozens of people died while trying to cross, including 27 people who capsized an overcrowded boat In November. Officials said the network that was dismantled in a police operation this week is believed to be unconnected to the network that was behind the November sinking.
Jean-Philippe Lokoff, deputy executive director of the European police agency Europol, said smugglers charge between 2,500 and 10,000 euros per person to help people cross into Britain, in a business that generated around 60 million euros in revenue last year.
“This deadly business is very profitable,” he said.
The gang leader who was arrested in London is accused of organizing a network that stretched from Turkey to the United Kingdom. He is now facing the possibility of being extradited to Belgium.
Investigators say the network has built an entire logistical supply chain: It obtained Turkish or Chinese-made boats as well as engines and life jackets online in Germany and the Netherlands, then moved them to departure points along the French and Belgian coasts.
Christian Bagung, a public prosecutor from the German city of Osnabrück, described the operation as “a huge step forward in the fight against smugglers’ gangs whose aim is to profit from people’s needs”.
Immigrants have long used northern France as a springboard to reach Britain, a destination many prefer for reasons of language or family ties, or because they have been told it is easier to obtain asylum or find work without immigration papers in Britain than on the continent.
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