Seized life jackets from a multi-jurisdiction raid in Europe Tuesday aimed at a criminal organization believed responsible for smuggling 10,000 migrants into Europe, which also resulted in 39 arrests. Photo by National Crime Agency/Twitter
July 6 (UPI) -- Around 40 people were arrested and thousands of dollars in cash, firearms, cars and drugs seized in a wide-ranging operation across Europe aimed at reducing human smuggling, authorities announced Wednesday.
Multiple agencies targeted a major criminal network suspected of involvement in smuggling up to 10,000 people into Britain, the country's National Crime Agency said in a release.
This criminal organization is believed to be responsible for around half of all migrants illegally smuggled into Europe, according to European Union law enforcement agency Europol.
"This criminal group is suspected of smuggling middle-Eastern and East African irregular migrants from France to the U.K. with the use of small boats. The investigative activities uncovered that the criminal network was active since at least October 2020," the agency said in a statement.
The operation spanned several countries, with nine people arrested in France, 18 in Germany and six each in the Netherlands and Britain. Authorities in Belgium were also involved in the 50 simultaneous searches in multiple jurisdictions.
Three of the arrests were considered high-value targets.
Seizures also returned over 1,200 lifejackets, 150 rubber boats, around 50 engines and $40,000 worth of cash, guns, cars and drugs. Authorities believe that equipment was meant to help smuggle people across the English Channel.
The operation was part of a larger effort to dismantle criminal networks and disrupt their operating models.
"This international investigation is targeting one of the most significant and most prolific crime groups involved in supplying small boats and moving migrants across the Channel," NCA Deputy Director of Investigations Jacque Beer said in a statement.
"Criminal gangs involved in small boat crossings should know that we are committed to throwing the full weight of European law enforcement at curtailing your activities."
The operation follows the arrest in May of a 29-year-old man living in London who police suspect of being a leading figure in the smuggling network.
"This hugely significant operation once again shows the NCA and our international partners working diligently to dismantle people-smuggling networks," British Home Secretary Priti Patel said in a statement.
"These callous individuals treat human lives as a commodity and we will continue to work with our partners to ensure that they feel the full force of our new, tougher laws designed to break their business model and suitably punish them for their despicable crimes," Patel said.