Dutch and French law enforcement officials have arrested 23 people suspected of “large-scale migrant smuggling” to the United Kingdom, European Judicial Cooperation Unit Eurojust announced on Wednesday.
The detainees are suspected of having trafficked around 10,000 Kurdish migrants to the United Kingdom in refrigerated trucks and small inflatable boats, after picking them up from the rest area car parks between Le Mans and Poitiers, in the west of France. A total of 19 people were arrested in France and four in the Netherlands, near The Hague.
The police also searched five properties linked to the criminal network, which charged 7,000 euros per crossing, earning them about 70 million euros in the process, Eurojust said.
French authorities, who began their investigations into the network in August 2018, regularly spotted suspects in vehicles with Dutch license plates, which led to the opening of an investigation in the Netherlands coordinated by Eurojust.
During the investigations, a link was discovered to a suspect running an illegal hawala banking system in the Netherlands, which was partly used for the payment of transporting migrants.
English and French authorities reported last month that they had detected a four-fold increase in the number of attempted migrant crossings from France to the UK in small, often overloaded inflatable boats.
Nearly 2,500 migrants were rescued trying to cross the English Channel in 2019, despite repeated warnings about the danger of the route given the high levels of shipping traffic, strong currents and low water temperatures.