The UK Border Agency has confirmed that 20 people have been arrested by officers in one of the biggest ever operations targeting suspected people smuggling gangs in Britain.
At 6am on 6 February 2013, 200 officers carried out simultaneous raids on 35 addresses across the UK; in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Coventry, Peterborough, Stoke-on-Trent, Sheffield, Warwickshire and Hampshire.
The arrests were the culmination of a joint investigation between the UK Border Agency’s criminal and financial investigation team and law enforcement agencies in France and Belgium, which also saw more than 40 raids take place in those countries.
Those arrested are suspected of being part of an alleged criminal network believed to assist illegal immigrants attempt to reach the UK by smuggling them in the back of lorries travelling through the Channel ports.
It is believed clients could be charged between £2,000 and £6,000 to be trafficked to the UK.
Those arrested are all aged between 18 and 38. In addition computers, documents, cash and mobile phones were seized from a number of addresses and will now be examined.
Immigration Minister, Mark Harper, said:
‘People smuggling is an international crime which requires international co-operation, and the arrests made today by the UK Border Agency show that co-operation is yielding results.
‘The organised criminal gangs involved in people smuggling pray on the desperation of others in order to line their own pockets. They are also a major factor involved in illegal immigration to the UK.’
Chris Foster, from the UK Border Agency’s criminal and financial investigation team, said:
‘We believe this to be one of the biggest operations of its kind ever undertaken in the UK, involving officers the length and breadth of the country.
‘My officers have been working closely with their counterparts in France and Belgium as well as other law enforcement agencies in the UK in the build-up to today’s operation.
‘We believe we have successfully disrupted a significant organised network suspected of being involved in a systematic attempt to evade the UK’s immigration controls.
‘Our investigation will continue with the evidence we have seized today.’
All were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to facilitate illegal immigration and money laundering and are now being questioned at various police stations around the UK.
In addition, 6 people were arrested for offences unrelated to the investigation at addresses in Manor Park, Palmers Green and Southall in London, and at an address in Southsea, Hampshire.
The operations in Belgium, France and the UK were supported and coordinated by Eurojust and Europol.
The UK Border Agency’s criminal and financial investigation team is a specialist unit of seconded police officers working alongside warranted UK Border Agency officers to investigate organised immigration crime.
Anyone who has information about immigration crime should contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 where anonymity can be assured or visit http://www.crimestoppers-uk.org/. Source: UKBA.
Once on UK soil, a smuggled migrant can claim asylum or just disappear into the system which already contains over half a million illegal immigrants and visa overstayers.
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