Briton held after Belgians bust people-smuggling operation

Isa Ertam faces extradition from the UK after a yacht with eight migrants was detained at a Belgian marina

Isa Ertam is arrested at a home in north London over an alleged attempt to smuggle eight people from Belgium. NCA

A Briton wanted in Belgium over an alleged attempt to smuggle eight people into the UK inside a yacht has been arrested in London.

Isa Ertam, 47, was detained at a house in north London more than six months after Belgian police boarded the boat, Rumrunner, at a marina in Nieuwpoort near the French border.

The Belgian authorities detained the skipper and eight people on board the boat and issued a European arrest warrant for Mr Ertam in January.

Police believe the skipper sailed the yacht from a marina in Burnham-on-Crouch, in eastern England, to Belgium to pick up the migrants. Mr Ertam was linked to the smuggling operation after his vehicle was identified close to the yacht in Belgium, say police.

He now faces an extradition hearing in London.

Martin Grace, of the UK’s National Crime Agency, said tackling organised immigration crime was a priority for the organisation.

“The NCA continues to work closely with partners in France, Belgium and beyond to target the organised crime groups involved in cross-Channel people smuggling,” he said.

More than 28,000 people arrived in the UK last year after crossing the English Channel in small boats, according to government data.

Three quarters of the new arrivals in 2021 were men aged 18 to 39 while only 7 per cent were women.

The number making the perilous journey across one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes has surged since 2018 when only 299 made the crossing.

Figures released on Thursday showed that 30 per cent of the people arriving were from Iran — the largest single group — while 21 per cent were from Iraq and 9 per cent from Syria.

The numbers represent a much greater mix of nationalities attempting the crossing. In 2018, four in five of those who crossed the Channel were from Iran.

Dr Peter William Walsh, senior researcher at the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said the reasons for the rise in small boat arrivals were not fully known.

“A large majority of people crossing the Channel in small boats claim asylum on being brought to the UK, and evidence from around the world suggests that changes in asylum applications are largely driven by developments well beyond UK policymakers' control, such as crises and violence in other countries,” he said.

Updated: February 24, 2022, 12:51 PM