Seven people have been arrested in an operation that police hope will have ‘significantly disrupted’ a people smuggling network which moved hundreds of Albanian migrants to the UK illegally charging up to £25,000-a-head, it was revealed today.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) said the network’s alleged ringleader was among those who were detained in a series of raids in south London, Surrey, Oxfordshire and Hartlepool yesterday.
Investigators think the alleged smugglers – who are believed to have contacts in France, Germany the Netherlands and Poland – used lorries and hired vans to move people to the UK from northern France.
The six men, aged from 26 to 44 years old, and a 26 year-old woman who have been arrested are being questioned on suspicion of involvement in a range of offences.
They include suspicion of facilitating illegal immigration, conspiracy to facilitate illegal immigration, money laundering offences and suspicion of possessing false ID documents.
National Crime Agency (NCA) officers detaining a 40-year-old man after conducting a raid on a property in Brighton Road, Purley this week
A van which was carrying ten Albanian migrants, stopped by Border Force officers carrying out searches of vehicles at the Channel Tunnel terminal in Coquelles, near Calais
The van was packed with items with the migrants crammed inside behind them hidden by a false wall
The NCA said the operation involved around 100 officers, was supported by the Metropolitan Police and Immigration Enforcement and that approximately £30,000 cash was recovered.
Searches were also carried out at locations in Croydon town centre, south London, and in Hartlepool.
NCA branch commander Richard Harrison said: ‘The network claimed to provide a top of the range service and charged accordingly, using complicit drivers to transport migrants in hired vehicles.
‘This activity represented a significant threat to both the safety of the migrants involved and the security of UK border controls.’
The NCA said that Border Force officers who carried out searches of vehicles at the Channel Tunnel terminal in Coquelles, near Calais, managed to stop six smuggling attempts in the six months to December 2020.
Another two attempts which have been linked to the network were stopped in May, as NCA investigators shared intelligence with French and German counterparts which led to vehicles containing migrants being halted by police before they could reach the coast.
In some cases, migrants are believed to have paid out between £20,000 and £25,000 to try and reach the UK, according to the NCA.
This is the moment the NCA smashed their way into the property in Purley and made the arrest
Pictured, a gang of Albanian drug dealers are taunting cops by posting pictures of drug money and flash cars to a public Instagram page
Albanian killer who raked in £40k a year from car wash job – and was once on Interpol’s most wanted list – is finally deported after five years
Selami Cokaj (above), once on Interpol’s most wanted list, fled to Britain after escaping from prison in Albania where he had been jailed for stabbing a man to death in 1994
An Albanian murderer who raked in more than £40,000 a year from a car wash business has finally been deported in a legal victory for Home Secretary Priti Patel.
Selami Cokaj, once on Interpol’s most wanted list, fled to Britain after escaping from prison in Albania where he had been jailed for stabbing a man to death in 1994.
He was sent back to his homeland in 2009 but sneaked back to the UK in 2015 before setting up several businesses and living openly in Leicester.
Now, after five years, the 47-year-old has been deported to Albania.
Speaking from Albania’s capital Tirana where she signed a deal this month to strengthen deportation arrangements, the Home Secretary told The Mail on Sunday: ‘I make no apology for seeking to remove dangerous foreign criminals to keep the British public safe.
Financial investigators have identified numerous bank accounts alleged to belong to the network, each showing tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds in turnover.
NCA deputy director Andrea Wilson described people smuggling as ‘a form of criminality that sees people exploited for profit by criminals who have no regard for human life.’
She added that the penalties for those who are caught are ‘severe and life-changing’ and ‘it is simply not worth the risk’.
Criminals as well as those who fail to be granted asylum from Albania will face a more rapid return to their home country under a post-Brexit deal secured by Priti Patel earlier this month.
The agreement, signed by the Home Secretary with the eastern European country, will make it easier to remove convicted offenders.
It will also make it simpler to move failed Albanian asylum seekers and those who have overstayed their visas.
The bilateral agreement with the nation will be seen as a major breakthrough after Brexit and could pave the way for similar deals with EU nations such as Poland.
The deal – finalised by Miss Patel during an official visit to the capital of Albania, Tirana – will make the process of transferring Albanian criminals and those in conflict with their immigration status ‘easier and quicker’, Home Office sources said last night.
The new deal comes amid growing concern over the number of foreign nationals in prison in England and Wales. One in eight inmates are now non-UK citizens, or 9,850 of the 78,000 behind bars.
The Government signed an agreement with Albania to remove jailed criminals in 2013 – which resulted in just 24 being removed six years later.
The Government has removed 254 Albanian criminals from Britain since April and another 85 with no right to be in this country, but a number of the Eastern European nation’s criminals have been able to remain in the UK after falsely claiming refugee status following the war in Kosovo which ended in 1999.