Cross-Channel migrant-smuggling group led by Iranians arrested in European raids

Thousands of migrants were packed into rubber boats to make dangerous Channel crossing

Twelve people have been arrested in a European migrant smuggling operation.
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European police have broken up a $3.5m human smuggling ring that transported thousands of people in life-threatening conditions across the English Channel to Britain.

The Iranian-led group charged people $3,500 each to board overloaded inflatable dinghies to make the dangerous crossing.

In a two-day operation on Monday and Tuesday, Europe's policing and judicial agencies Europol and Eurojust arrested 12 suspected people traffickers in raids across three countries.

Police also seized 12 vehicles, 10 rubber boats and engines, 152 life jackets, a caravan, a boat trailer, jewellery, $56,000 in cash, documents and mobile devices.

"Twelve suspects were arrested in the combined operation including seven in France, three in Britain and two in the Netherlands," a spokesperson for Eurojust said.

Those arrested are suspected of being part of a gang organised mainly by Iranians, who organise their activities through ties top northern Europe.

“This investigation targeted a developing trend of migrant smuggling involving small boats across the English Channel, a criminal activity which has escalated exponentially in recent months with increased interceptions in France and the UK,” Eurojust said.

“The network was smuggling migrants with small boats from the north coast of France to the UK. The suspects had connections in different countries to organise their criminal activity.

“Members of the criminal group purchased inflatable boats and engines from Germany and the Netherlands and transported them to the departure points. There, they taught the migrants how to operate the boats.

“This transportation in overloaded boats, and often in very difficult weather conditions on one of the busiest commercial shipping lanes in the world, endangered both the lives of the migrants and the law enforcement officers involved in rescue operations at sea.”

On Tuesday, four boats carrying 21 people were intercepted, while on Wednesday, another three boats carrying 48 people were stopped.

Earlier this month, 27 boats holding 409 people made the perilous journey.

The crossings have led the UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson to warn that Britain is a "target and magnet" for people traffickers and its asylum laws needed reviewing.

More than 5,000 migrants have arrived in small boats this year, and throughout August 1,468 people made the journey.