Police catch people-smuggling gang behind 50 Channel crossings

·3-min read
The gang is suspected of having organised 80 Channel crossings over the summer, of which 50 were successful - GLYN KIRK/AFP
The gang is suspected of having organised 80 Channel crossings over the summer, of which 50 were successful - GLYN KIRK/AFP

A people-smuggling gang behind 50 Channel crossings carrying 2,000 migrants has been caught by French police.

Officers seized more than a dozen boats and 700 life jackets in raids that also uncovered a “factory” supplying nautical equipment.

The ring, based in Lille, a northern French city about 60 miles from Calais, and run by Iraqi Kurdish migrants, is suspected of having organised 80 Channel crossings over the summer, of which 50 were successful.

Each Channel dinghy generally carries more than 40 migrants and is said by police to have netted the smugglers around  £70,000 apiece, or more than £3.5 million in total.

News of the raids came as an estimated 650 to 700 migrants crossed the Channel on Thursday following 667 confirmed as being intercepted in the Channel on Wednesday. It takes the total past 31,000 for this year, compared with 28,561 for the whole of 2021.

A new analysis also revealed that the cost of housing asylum seekers in hotels has risen by more than £1 billion in a year, from an estimated £70 million a year in March 2021, to a total this year of £1.28 billion per annum.

It is thought that around 33,000 migrants are being housed in hotels, at a cost of £4,250 a month per asylum seeker, as a result of the surge in Channel migrants, according to the analysis by think tank Migration Watch UK.

A group of migrants arrive in Dungeness, Kent, after being rescued in the Channel by the RNLI - Gareth Fuller/PA
A group of migrants arrive in Dungeness, Kent, after being rescued in the Channel by the RNLI - Gareth Fuller/PA

The raid is the biggest breakthrough for the multi-national Channel security operation since July when more than 900 officers staged dawn raids across Europe and the UK to break up a people-smuggling gang behind 10,000 migrant crossings.

Biggest seizure of equipment

This week’s raids came as a result of a similar intelligence-sharing operation between authorities in France, Belgium, Britain, Germany and the Netherlands, who are all trying to tackle migrants crossing the Channel by boat.

The original tip-off came after a border guard patrol discovered a group of French youths carrying inflatables from Germany into the Netherlands.

The ring had a logistics hub in Lille with “a real factory supplying nautical equipment”, said Xavier Delrieu, the head of Ocriest, the French agency battling illegal migration.

In what was their biggest ever seizure of equipment, they found 13 inflatable boats, 14 outboard engines, 700 life jackets, 100 pumps and 700 litres of fuel, Delrieu said.

Three Iraqi men have been charged, along with three French suspects after their arrest on Monday.

Government committed to Rwanda policy

Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, is said to be considering seeking joint beach patrols with the French to help prevent Channel migrant crossings as part of any deal to continue UK funding.

Both Ms Braverman and Liz Truss are committed to the Rwanda asylum policy, currently stalled by a High Court challenge over its legality. Ms Truss said, during the leadership campaign, that she wanted to extend deals to more countries.

It emerged on Thursday that the Home Office has told more asylum seekers they may be sent to Rwanda in legal notices issued during the period of national mourning following Queen Elizabeth’s death.

A letter, disclosed by The Independent, dated 13 September, told one man that he could be declared “inadmissible” for protection in the UK because he had been present in France before crossing the English Channel.

Greater use of detention of migrants in secure accommodation is also being considered to act as a further deterrent to migrant crossings and divert more away from hotels.

Alp Mehmet, the chairman of Migration Watch, said housing migrants in hotels was now costing “already hard-pressed, taxpayer eye-watering amounts of money”.

“The new Home Secretary must now show the resolve needed to deal with the costly chaos. Demand for hotel rooms will only reduce when the number of questionable asylum claims declines in line with fewer arrivals,” he added.