Five hotel workers from northern France have been arrested on suspicion of helping an Albanian people smuggling gang traffic migrants into the UK.
The hotel managers are accused of allowing their premises to be used by the gang to house would-be asylum seekers waiting to be shipped across the English Channel in cars, lorries or vans.
Police said the workers had been assisting the smugglers for months, if not years.
The local prosecutor’s office said the arrested men – two Algerians, two Frenchmen and a Franco-Algerian – were paid large sums of money by the trafficking gang for use of their accommodation.
On arrival in France, migrants from Albania who had paid thousands of euros for guaranteed “safe passage to the UK” were told they would not have to sleep in camps similar to the Jungle shantytown that was demolished last October, and would instead enjoy the comparatively comfortable lodgings provided by the crooked hotel workers.
Prosecutors said the hotel managers played a pivotal role in the gang’s operation, but did not make clear whether this involved more than providing rooms for its clients.
Boulogne public prosecutor Pascal Marconville said: “The arrests came after a surveillance operation over the past three weeks.
“They had been offering migrants a guaranteed passage to England for between €5,000 and €10,000 per head, depending on the form of transport used to get them across the Channel.”
According to police, the smugglers and hoteliers forced up to seven migrants to share one small room to keep costs down. Detectives said this led to the gang’s customers living in “sordid” conditions for days on end while they waited smuggled into the UK.
None of the hotels used in the operation were owned by the people smuggling gang, but the managers and owners of the establishments cooperated with the suspected Albanian traffickers, officials said. Some even sold clothes to the gang’s customers before they departed for Britain.
Several migrants were detained alongside the hotel workers.
All of those held are expected to appear in court over the coming days, while the hotels have been closed to prevent them from being turned into squats.
The arrests follow reports that UK-bound migrants are returning to Calais in greater numbers since the closure of the Jungle camp, with more than 100 arriving back in the town every week.
News of the arrests came as it was revealed that more Albanians are caught attempting to sneak into Britain illegally than any other nationality. A freedom of information request made by the Guardian newspaper to the UK Home Office revealed that 981 Albanian migrants had been apprehended at entry points into Britain between 2008 and the spring of last year.