Police in France have detained 15 suspected members of an international migrant smuggling syndicate that helped people illegally cross the English Channel to the UK.
Iraqi Kurds, Romanians, Pakistanis and Vietnamese people are among those to have been arrested.
Officers said they had approached migrants in camps in Grande-Synthe, a suburb of Dunkirk in northern France, and encouraged them to undertake the dangerous voyage to Britain in small boats.
Police began their investigation in October 2020 and suspect the network has helped at least 250 migrants travel from France to England in dinghies that can carry up to 60 people at a time.
Passengers are believed to have paid up to €6,000 ($6,757) each for passage to Britain and the smugglers are estimated to have made about €3 million in profit, the illegal migration branch of the French police said in a statement.
“It was a network of hardened criminals who were well organised due to the complicity of drivers, secret financial backers and people who acted as lookouts for the police,” Xavier Delrieu, who led the investigation, told AFP.
The 15 were detained last week and about €40,000 in cash was seized.
According to the French authorities, 31,500 people have attempted to leave for Britain since the start of the year and 7,800 people have been rescued at sea — figures which have doubled since August.
French law enforcement swooped on the network amid rising tensions between Britain and France over the migrant crisis, as record-breaking numbers of arrivals continue to pour into the former EU member state.
France has accused the UK of failing to live up to its pledge to send funding to tackle the migrant smuggling gangs, while British officials have claimed the French are too passive on the issue.
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel have come under intense pressure from member of their own Conservative Party to step up the response to the crisis and stem the flow of migrants.
More than 25,000 people have now arrived illegally from across the Channel so far this year, already triple the figure recorded in 2020, according to official UK data.
The issue has added to growing post-Brexit tensions between Britain and France, with a row on fishing rights also still unresolved.
Migration has long been a contentious topic in the UK and has long been the cause of debate and argument.
Charities have called on ministers to set up safer routes for people to apply for asylum in the UK while critics of the Conservative government have said they should use harsher tactics to deter illegal migration.