Dozens arrested in UK and Europe raids amid human trafficking crackdown

A Europe-wide human trafficking network has been targeted in a major, co-ordinated operation by authorities in the UK, Belgium and Bulgaria.

In the UK, 11 people were arrested in simultaneous early morning raids at a number of addresses in London, Birmingham and Gateshead.

A total of 27 people across the UK, Belgium and Bulgaria have been detained as part of the operation, which authorities say is continuing.

The investigation, which is being co-ordinated by the Immigration Enforcement unit at the Home Office, is aimed at disrupting the organised crime networks behind human trafficking.

Some 200 officers took part in the raids, codenamed operation Halifax.

Those being smuggled are thought to have been mainly from Afghanistan, with some also from Pakistan and Vietnam.

The gang allegedly used specially-adapted vans and trucks to travel across Europe and into Britain.

The illegal trade is worth many millions of pounds to the traffickers, who charge between £7,000 and £10,000 for each illegal immigrant they smuggle into the UK.

"This international investigation is targeting an organised network suspected of being involved in a systematic attempt to evade the UK's immigration controls," said Steve Dann, director of criminal and financial investigation at the Home Office.

"People smuggling is a cruel and dangerous trade in which often vulnerable individuals are treated as commodities.

"Many are passed into the hands of other crime gangs who would seek to exploit them for modern slavery purposes, including labour exploitation and the illicit sex trade.

"We have been working closely with law enforcement colleagues across Europe and that vital co-operation will continue as the investigation proceeds with the evidence we have seized today."

The arrest operation in the UK was supported by officers from the National Crime Agency.

The NCA's Chris Hogben said: "Criminal gangs often facilitate the arrival of illegal migrants into the UK by exploiting their desperation without thought for safety and with the sole motive of profit.

"We see this through migrants being sent across the channel in unseaworthy small boats or stuffed into the back of cramped lorries, vans and cars.

"This operation is a good example of how we can bring together law enforcement from across Europe to work together to take on that threat and disrupt the organised networks involved in people smuggling."

Home Office Minister Brandon Lewis said the investigation highlighted the determination of authorities here and elsewhere in Europe to work together to go after those involved in this type of organised criminality.

Those arrested on Thursday have been taken to a number of police stations in London, Birmingham and Gateshead for questioning.

Authorities say it is likely other arrests will follow.

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