In a massive police operation across Europe, the suspected ringleader of a network suspected of trafficking up to 10,000 people on small boats across the English Channel has been arrested alongside 38 other suspects. Almost half of the suspects were detained in Germany.
Authorities reported Wednesday (July 6) that in addition to the arrests, police also discovered 135 boats, more than 1,000 life jackets, outboard engines, packs of paddles, and money used for smuggling activities in various locations including a German farmhouse and Dutch warehouses.
The operation, which is still ongoing, was coordinated by the EU's police and justice organizations including Europol and five EU member states, resulting in 18 arrests in Germany, nine in France, six in Britain, and six in the Netherlands.
EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson congratulated Europol on the success of the operation.
Matt Rivers of the UK National Crime Agency said he believed that this was the "largest operation of its type against this threat," adding: "I hope it sends a message."
According to Rivers, the operation is likely to result in a drop in the number of Channel crossings. Years of tough measures imposed by British and French police on either side of the Channel have, however, largely failed to deter migrants determined to attempt the perilous journey to reach the UK.
Rivers added that the alleged ringleader of the smuggling network is an Iranian Kurd living in London; he is accused of organizing a network that stretched from Turkey all the way to the UK.
The 26-year-old is now facing possible extradition to Belgium.
Smuggling: a 'deadly' but 'profitable' affair
In Germany alone, there were 18 arrests during the operation, with the suspects all being men aged 22 to 54. A total of 36 properties were searched, where authorities discovered 119 inflatable boats, 33 engines and nearly 1,000 life jackets.
Last year, more than 28,000 people crossed the English Channel without papers in order to reach Britain. Many of them traveled in unseaworthy dinghies and other flimsy boats while crossing one of the busiest shipping routes in the world.
The number of these journeys in 2021 was up by nearly 20,000 compared to 2020. So far in 2022, there have been 9,000 migrant arrivals in the UK via the English Channel.
Meanwhile, the crossing has claimed the lives of dozens of people, including an incident last November when 27 people capsized in a crowded boat.
According to officials, the network responsible for the sinking in November is, however, unrelated to the one that was dismantled in this week's police operation.
Jean-Philippe Lecouffe, deputy executive director of the European police agency Europol, said that smugglers charge between €2,500 and €10,000 per person to smuggle people into Britain.
"This deadly business is highly profitable," he highlighted, adding that the industry had generated an estimated €60 million in total revenue last year.
Read more: UK: Sentences for migrant smugglers
with AP, epd