Dozens of people detained as part of a large international operation to combat human trafficking in the Channel

Dozens of arrests have been made in the largest international police operation of its kind to nab a gang of smugglers suspected of being behind thousands of Channel crossings.

A series of raids took place in the UK, Germany, France and the Netherlands on Tuesday in a joint operation coordinated by Europol and Eurojust, the criminal justice cooperation agency of the European Union.

Operation Punjum, led by the National Crime Agency (NCA) in the UK, was carried out alongside Operation Thoren in Europe to target an organized crime gang suspected of smuggling up to 10,000 migrants to across the English Channel over the past 12 to 18 months.

It is understood there have been more than 40 arrests in all the countries involved, with several hundred life jackets recovered and 50 small boats, such as dinghies, recovered from one location.

There is still a lot to do. It won’t stop it but it will make a dent

Chris Farrimond, ANC

In London, NCA officers arrested a 26-year-old man in Rushey Green, Catford, and a 22-year-old man in St Davids Square, Isle of Dogs, on suspicion of conspiring to facilitate illegal immigration .

NCA Threats Branch Director Chris Farrimond said the arrests were seen as “directly related to the operation”. The men remain in custody and are being questioned by NCA investigators.

Of four other arrests made, two were “presumed to be illegal migrants” and were turned over to immigration authorities, while two others were arrested for drug-related offences.

The NCA described the raids as ‘the largest-ever international operation targeting criminal networks suspected of using small boats to smuggle thousands of people into the UK’.

Prosecutors in the city of Osnabruck in the northwest were reportedly in charge of the German raids.

Some 900 officers from the Federal Police and the Osnabruck Police Prefecture were involved in 36 property searches, with 18 people arrested in Lower Saxony, Bremen, North Rhine-Westphalia and Baden- Württemberg, German news agency dpa reported.

The NCA said all the countries had worked together as part of a long-running task force to tackle people smuggling and Channel crossings and investigations began with the arrest of a ‘pivot alleged human trafficking in London earlier this year.

Mr Farrimond told reporters at a briefing: “It was actually our intelligence that started it all and led to the climax (Tuesday).

“Many of those arrested overseas were targeted as a result of evidence we provided to the task force.”

Provisional figures show more than 12,800 migrants have arrived in the UK so far this year (PA)

(PA wire)

Iranian Hewa Rahimpur, 29, who lived in Ilford, east London, was arrested in May on suspicion of being a leading figure in a ring organizing human trafficking via small craft and faces extradition proceedings to ship him to Belgium.

Asked how much the gang was supposed to charge migrants to cross the Channel after lining up boats, motors and life jackets for them, Mr Farrimond said a ‘straight trip across the Channel’ was estimated between 2,500 and 3,500 euros.

But he added that most people are also asking for help to travel across Europe, which would cost more.

More than 12,800 migrants have arrived in the UK so far this year after sailing busy shipping lanes from France in dinghies and other small boats, according to provisional government figures. Official records show 28,526 crusaders last year.

Although this operation alone ‘won’t stop the flow of migrants into the UK’, Mr Farrimond said he believed the scale of the works would ‘absolutely’ put a dent in it, adding: ‘It will take time for this group, or any group after it, to straighten out. Now, we’re not going to stop there.

“Ideally we would like to stop supplying the small boats much earlier so that they really have a hard time getting their hands on it.

“And we would also like to attack the money flows in much more detail than we do now. So there’s a lot to do. It’s not going to stop it but it’s going to make a dent.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said the latest operation shows Britain will ‘stop at nothing’ to end illegal human trafficking.

She said: “These arrests send a clear message to criminal gangs preying on vulnerable people across Europe and beyond: we will stop at nothing to end your sordid business, bring you to justice and save Lives.

“This hugely significant operation shows once again that the NCA and our international partners are working diligently to dismantle smuggling networks.

“These callous individuals treat human lives as a commodity and we will continue to work with our partners to ensure they feel the full force of our tougher new laws designed to break their business model and appropriately punish them for their crimes. despicable.”

Further information on the European operation is expected to be provided at a Eurojust press conference in The Hague in the Netherlands on Wednesday.