Police bust 'one of largest' Channel migrant smuggling networks

AFP - [email protected]
Police bust 'one of largest' Channel migrant smuggling networks
An illustration image of German Federal Police (Bundespolizei) checking a migrant near Forst, eastern Germany in October 2023. (Photo by JENS SCHLUETER / AFP)

German police assisted by French and Belgian authorities have rolled up "one of the largest migrant smuggling networks" operating in the Channel, arresting 19 suspects in the international operation, Europol said on Thursday.


"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," Europe's policing agency said in a statement.

Police in Germany on Wednesday swooped on 19 homes and nine storage facilities. They seized 12 inflatable boats, 179 life vests, 81 flotation devices for children, 60 air pumps, 11 outboard mounts, 10 engines, almost 60 electronic devices, arms and cash.

A probe into the gang's activities started in late 2022, identifying the structure and operations of the organisation made up of Iraqi and Syrian nationals of Kurdish origin, the Hague-based Europol said.

"The suspects, all based in Germany, organised the purchase, storage and transportation of inflatable boats for their subsequent use to smuggle migrants from the beaches near the French city of Calais towards the UK," Europol said.

The low-quality boats, made mostly in China and "not suitable nor safe for the transportation of more than 10 individuals", often  carried as many as 50 people.


In total, the investigators have gathered evidence linking at least 55 departures that were facilitated solely by this smuggling network, Europol said, saying the criminals charged between 1,000 and 3,000 euros per migrant "for a place on the dangerous vessel".


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