An Afghan criminal gang suspected of planning to smuggle migrants to the U.K. in small boats has been dismantled, following a multi-agency operation involving the National Crime Agency and French law enforcement.
Officers from the NCA and French illegal immigration unit OCRIEST, working together as part of the Anglo-French Joint Intelligence Cell (JIC), launched an investigation into the network last November. This led to members of the network being placed under surveillance. Officers from the NCA-led Project Invigor organized immigration crime taskforce, which also includes Immigration Enforcement, Border Force and the CPS, worked with OCRIEST to link the group to crossings and boats that had arrived in the U.K., sharing evidence and intelligence with the French.
In early March, French police made ten arrests in the Yvelines region, west of Paris. Eight of those arrested were later charged with facilitating illegal immigration by a French magistrate. Three were remanded into custody, all suspected of being gang organizers.
The network are accused of buying second-hand boats from classified adverts placed online, then deflating them and burying them on beaches along the coast of the Pas-de-Calais region ready to be used.
Each boat could carry between 10 and 15 migrants, who would be charged between 2,500 and 3,000 euro each to get to the U.K. The group are suspected of having been involved in at least six attempts to cross the Channel already, three of which were thwarted by the French authorities.
Miles Bonfield, head of organized immigration crime operations for the NCA said:
“Operations like these demonstrate the benefits of us working closely with our French counterparts. Through the Joint Intelligence Cell we now have NCA officers on the ground in France, sharing intelligence and working together, day in day out.
“These people smuggling networks are callous and show no care for the safety of the people they transport, putting them in small dinghies that are unfit for this type of crossing.
“Working with our law enforcement partners in France and elsewhere we are determined to do all we can to disrupt and dismantle these networks, who are putting lives at risk.”
In July 2020 the NCA established a Joint Intelligence Cell with the French police unit OCRIEST. This cell sees UK and French officers working side by side in Northern France to maximise impact against OCGs. Since the JIC began operation more than 180 suspected facilitators have been arrested by French law enforcement.