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One of the biggest English Channel people smuggling rings is smashed as 19 members of ‘Iraqi-Syrian network who sent migrants to UK on cheap Chinese inflatables’ are arrested


  • Europol linked the smuggling ring to at least 55 crossings from France to the UK

One of the biggest English Channel people smuggling rings has been dismantled, authorities have said, with police arresting 19 members of an Iraqi-Syrian network who they suspect of sending migrants to the UK on small boats.

Raids carried out by German, French and Belgian police saw dozens low-quality inflatable boats from China, engines and life vests uncovered across 28 locations in Germany.

Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency which coordinated the operation, said that investigators gathered evidence ‘linking at least 55 departures that were facilitated solely by this smuggling network.’

The agency said that the suspects collected between €1,000 and €3,000 from desperate migrants for a spot on the dangerous vessels bound for Britain.

Among those arrested were five ‘high valued targets’, suspected ringleaders who included the group’s alleged boss and main ‘organisers’. 

Pictures show police arresting a smuggling ring suspect in the major operation

Pictures show police arresting a smuggling ring suspect in the major operation

Police found 24 inflatable boats in various storage facilities, each of which they said smugglers would cram around 50 migrants into

Police found 24 inflatable boats in various storage facilities, each of which they said smugglers would cram around 50 migrants into

The raids were carried out by German, French and Belgian police and coordinated by Europol

The raids were carried out by German, French and Belgian police and coordinated by Europol

Europol described the ring, which consists of Iraqi and Syrian nationals of Kurdish origin, as ‘highly professional’.

They added that it was ‘one of the most active involved with smuggling people over the Channel’.

Boats would be driven to France, investigators said, where ‘the criminal network was able to facilitate up to eight departures per night depending on the weather conditions.’ 

Police found 24 inflatable boats in various storage facilities, each of which they said smugglers would cram around 50 migrants into – despite the vessels being designed to hold a maximum of just 10 people.

Cops also seized 175 life vests, 81 flotation devices for children, 60 air pumps, 13 outboard mounts, 14 engines, almost 60 electronic devices, arms and several thousand euros in cash.

Cops seized 175 life vests, 81 flotation devices for children, 60 air pumps, 13 outboard mounts, 14 engines

Cops seized 175 life vests, 81 flotation devices for children, 60 air pumps, 13 outboard mounts, 14 engines

A suspect with his head covered is led away by police after the raids in Germany

A suspect with his head covered is led away by police after the raids in Germany

A total of 38 dinghies have made the perilous journey so far in 2024, according to official figures, meaning an average of 45 people was crammed into each vessel (file image)

A total of 38 dinghies have made the perilous journey so far in 2024, according to official figures, meaning an average of 45 people was crammed into each vessel (file image)

Europol added that ‘further investigative activities are ongoing into the individuals managing the financial and money laundering activities for the criminal network.’

It comes after more than one hundred migrants crossed the English Channel by small boat over the weekend, despite thick fog.

Last weekend’s arrivals brought the total number of migrants who have crossed the Channel this year to 1,716.

A total of 38 dinghies have made the perilous journey so far in 2024, meaning an average of 45 people was crammed into each vessel.

Last year, 29,437 asylum seekers reached the UK by small boat – significantly less than 2022 when a record 45,755 people made the treacherous journey.



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