Europol dismantles big migrant smuggling network in Europe, arrests 19

  • World
  • Friday, 23 Feb 2024

FILE PHOTO: A group of migrants disembarks from an inflatable dinghy at the Le Portel beach after an unsuccessful attempt to cross the English Channel from the coast of northern France, as warm weather and calm seas are favourable for crossings, France, October 2, 2023. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - One of the biggest migrant smuggling networks across the English channel was dismantled with the arrest of 19 people in Germany, including the leader and four main organisers, Europol said on Thursday following a large-scale operation conducted with German, French and Belgian police.

"The investigation focused on an Iraqi-Kurdish network suspected of smuggling Middle Eastern and East African irregular migrants from France to the UK with the use of low quality inflatable boats," the EU's law enforcement agency said.

The suspects of the investigation, launched at the end of 2022, organised the purchase, storage and transportation of the inflatable boats, mainly of Chinese origin, that they later used to smuggle migrants from the beaches near the French city of Calais toward the UK.

On average, the gang would put 50 migrants in the boats suited for a maximum of 10 passengers, charging between 1,000-3,000 euros ($1,081-$3,242) per migrant, Europol said.

Wave, the operational task force behind the arrests, searched 28 locations in Germany and seized 24 inflatable boats, large amounts of nautical equipment, 60 electronic devices, arms, and several thousand euros in cash.

About 900 German police officers in total were involved in the operation, the Belgian federal prosecutor's office said in a separate statement.

Earlier this month, the EU's Frontex border agency said irregular immigration to the bloc from Western Africa had risen more than 10 times on the year in January.

Frontex said it expects overall arrivals to grow in 2024 and that halting the movement of people completely is impossible.

($1 = 0.9252 euros)

(Reporting by Piotr Lipinski; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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