39 suspects arrested for smuggling migrants on boats to UK

PARIS (AP) — The alleged leader of a ring that smuggled up to 10,000 people on small boats across the English Channel to Britain has been arrested along with 38 others in a massive police operation in across Europe.

Along with the arrests, authorities said Wednesday that police found 135 boats in locations including a German farm and Dutch warehouses, more than 1,000 life jackets, outboard motors, paddle packs and fuel. money used for smuggling.

“We believe this is the largest such operation against this threat,” Matt Rivers of the UK’s National Crime Agency told a press conference. “I hope that sends a message.”

Five countries and EU police and justice agencies coordinated the operation, which led to 18 arrests in Germany, nine in France, six in Britain and six in the Netherlands. The operation is in progress.

The alleged ringleader is a 26-year-old Iranian Kurd, Rivers said. No other details were immediately released.

Rivers predicted a drop in the number of Channel crossings as a result, although years of increasingly stringent measures by British and French police have done little to deter those determined to attempt the risky journey to get to the UK.

More than 28,000 people fleeing conflict or crushing poverty in Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq or elsewhere reached Britain across the English Channel last year, many in dinghies and other flimsy craft crossing one of the largest sea lanes in the world. This was up from 8,500 in 2020.

Dozens of people have died attempting the crossing, including 27 people aboard a crowded boat that capsized in November. The network dismantled in this week’s police operation is believed to be unrelated to the one behind the November sinking, officials said.

Smugglers charge between 2,500 and 10,000 euros per person to help people enter Britain, in a business that generated around 60 million euros in revenue last year, according to Jean-Philippe Lecouffe, executive director deputy of the European police agency Europol.

“This deadly business is very profitable,” he said.

The leader arrested in London is accused of having organized a network which extended from Turkey to the United Kingdom. He now faces possible extradition to Belgium.

Investigators say the network has built an entire logistical supply chain: it has acquired Turkish or Chinese-made boats as well as engines and life jackets online in Germany and the Netherlands, then transported them to starting points along the French and Belgian coasts.

Christian Bagung, public prosecutor for the German city of Osnabruek, called the operation “a big step forward in the fight against smuggling gangs that aim to take advantage of people’s needs”.

Migrants have long used northern France as a jumping-off point to reach Britain, a destination favored by many for reasons of language or family ties, or because they are told it is easier to get there. get asylum or find work without immigration papers in Britain than on the Continent.

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