An Afghan has been accused of being a leader of an international people smuggling network carrying migrants to the UK from northern Europe in the back of lorries.
Gul Wali Jabarkhel, 32, was detained in north London on Thursday and appeared in court on Saturday accused of facilitating illegal immigration.
Mr Jabarkhel is suspected by the National Crime Agency of being a high-ranking member of an Afghan crime group with links to criminal organisations in Belgium.
They are said to have planned to use corrupt lorry drivers to carry out the operation. Mr Jabarkhel was remanded in custody and is due to appear in court again next month.
Andy Noyes, of the NCA, said Mr Jabarkhel was “suspected of running a criminal enterprise which involved migrants being moved across the channel in lorries in dangerous circumstances”.
"Organised immigration crime sees people treated as a commodity to be exploited and profited from, and tackling it is a priority for the NCA," he said.
Officials say that Covid-19 travel and border restrictions reduced the number of people travelling to the UK hidden in vehicles when the pandemic broke out – but that the number had returned to pre-lockdown levels by the end of 2020.
Afghans top the list of nationalities who are most likely to be smuggled to the UK, the NCA said. Eritrea, Iran, Iraq and Sudan are also common source countries.