According to their own statements, investigators in five countries have broken out one of the largest gangs of people smugglers in Europe with a large-scale international operation. The criminal network of the Iraqi-Kurdish organization had been broken up, as Europol and representatives of the judiciary of the countries involved announced on Wednesday in The Hague.
A total of 39 people were arrested, including three suspected masterminds. 18 men were arrested in four German states on Tuesday. The gang is said to have smuggled around 10,000 people in rubber boats across the English Channel to the UK since 2021 alone.
“Today, our investigative authorities managed a hard blow against the inhuman, unscrupulous business of the smuggler gangs,” said Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser of the German Press Agency. These gangs took advantage of the misery of the people.
“They often take everything they have left. They put people in great danger of life,” said the SPD politician. The minister thanked the federal police and all the police and investigative authorities involved in Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Great Britain. She emphasized that the operation showed “how well we work together in Europe”.
The European judicial authority Eurojust spoke of “one of the largest police actions in Europe” against people smuggling across the English Channel. It was aimed specifically at the leadership of the gang and their financial flows. The investigations are still ongoing.
According to the British judiciary, one of the possible leaders of the gang, a 26-year-old man, was arrested in London in May. France and Belgium requested the extradition of the men arrested in Germany. According to the information, hundreds of investigators were involved in the large-scale operation.
According to Europol, more than 50 apartments and storage rooms were searched. Almost 150 inflatable boats, around 1,200 life jackets and around 50 outboard motors were confiscated. The investigators also seized thousands of euros in cash, weapons and drugs.
The investigations began in November 2021 in France. Europol spoke of a “highly professional network” with a sophisticated infrastructure – including warehouses, transport companies, boat dealers, accommodation providers and drivers. Migrants were taken by the gang in cars to Calais in northwestern France, where the canal is narrowest. From there they were transported in rubber boats.
The German cells of the network would have delivered boats, life jackets and outboard motors. In the town of Lotte near Osnabrück, the police discovered a farmhouse in which life jackets and other material had been found. “This is exemplary for the structure in Germany,” said Helgo Marten, director at the Federal Police. “A rather unremarkable camp, far from the city.”
According to estimates by the French police, up to 90 percent of the boats and engines for the crossings to Great Britain organized by smugglers were bought in Germany last year and taken from there to Belgium. In the north of France, when buying certain boats and boat engines, you are now required to show identification and provide a telephone number.
Illegal migration across the English Channel is big business, according to Europol. Smuggler gangs would have earned around 60 million euros in 2021, said Deputy Europol Director Jean-Philippe Lecouffe.
“It’s a deadly but very rewarding business.” Smugglers demanded around 3,000 euros for the life-threatening crossing. They would send the light rubber boats out even in bad weather, “with little regard for human life,” he emphasized.