European police have arrested a dozen people suspected of smuggling migrants across the English Channel to Britain. The mainly Iranian gang reportedly charged migrants thousands of euros per crossing.
A multinational police force working together with European agencies Europol and Eurojust this week arrested 12 suspected smugglers accused of taking migrants across the English Channel.
Police also seized 12 vehicles, 10 rubber boats and engines, 152 life jackets, a caravan, a boat trailer, jewellery, about €48,000 in cash, documents and mobile devices, Eurojust added in a statement.
Those arrested are suspected of being part of a mainly Iranian smuggling gang based in France, the Netherlands and Britain, organizing their activities through their ties in the various countries and social media.
"The network is believed to have made huge profits from smuggling migrants in small boats from the north coasts of France to Britain," charging an average of €3,000 per crossing, Eurojust said.
"Transporting migrants in overloaded boats, often in very difficult weather conditions on one of the busiest commercial shipping lanes in the world, endangered the lives of both the migrants and also the law enforcement officers conducting sea rescue operations," it said.
Eurojust said illegal migrant-smuggling activity has "increased exponentially" in recent months with over 4,600 irregular migrants detected since 2018 on British shores.
Migrants previously stowed away in trucks or on ferries. Due to the coronavirus epidemic restricting traffic between Britain and France, more have turned to small boats supplied by smugglers.
"With an overloaded vessel and the wave height... quite often these vessels are filling with water and baling out," Steven Dann from Britain's National Crime Agency (NCA), said.
"Within that is vomit and sometimes fuel, we've had people whose skin has been burnt by the fuel," he added.
"When you see these migrants coming, it's upsetting. You see women and children coming off these boats shivering, hypothermic."
Migrants crossed in paddling pool
Organized crime gangs were also using the crossings to smuggle firearms, the NCA said.
However, some of the worst incidents did not involve organized crime networks, but rather those desperately trying to make their own way across the treacherous waters.
"We've had a paddling pool you buy at (British high street store) Argos," Dann said of one of the attempted crossings.
France boosts efforts to prevent departures
The joint operation comes as French police on Tuesday dismantled a camp of about 800 migrants in the port city of Calais.
"The French at the moment are intercepting over 50 percent of events taking place, they're making every effort to prevent these crossings," said Dann.
So far this year, French authorities have intercepted at least 1,317 migrants as they tried to reach the UK, some by swimming across the busy waterway.
With AFP, AP