Twenty-six arrests as part of operation to dismantle migrant smuggling network

Authorities estimate more than 48 illegal journeys happened since June 2016

Twenty-six arrests as part of operation to dismantle migrant smuggling network

Image: Europol

Law enforcement officials across five European Union countries have arrested 26 people in dismantling a migrant smuggling network.

Europol and Eurojust supported a joint investigation team from Belgium, Bulgaria, France, the Netherlands and the UK.

They carried out 42 searches across Europe and arrrested 26 individuals - eight in Belgium, seven in Bulgaria and 11 in the UK.

Six of the arrests were on the basis of European Arrest Warrants.

The individuals arrrested are suspected of being part of the network that was helping unlawful immigration from countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, into the EU.

Authorities estimate that more than 48 illegal journeys since June 2016 have taken place, allowing around 400 migrants to gain illegal entry into Europethrough this organised crime group.

The group is believed to have transported migrants in specially-adapted vehicles, passing through various EU states, with the UK as final destination.

Image: Europol

The group modified the back door of the storage area of vehicles, mostly minivans, creating a double door in which the migrants were hiding during travel.

Image: Europol

Europol says the ring leader of the group was a wheelchair-bound disabled man from Afghanistan, who was based in the UK.

Robert Crepinko is Head of the European Migrant Smuggling Centre at Europol.

He says: "This operation, the biggest 2017 operation from the European Migrant Smuggling Centre, clearly shows that migrant smuggling is an international crime that calls for international cooperation in law enforcement.

"Furthermore, the case highlights how easily one criminal can lead a huge, pan-EU network from one EU member state.

"The joint investigation team, which facilitates the coordination of investigations and prosecutions conducted in parallel across several States, is an excellent instrument to fight this kind of cross-border crime."