Officers from Project Invigor, the U.K. National Crime Agency-led taskforce targeting organized immigration crime, have taken part in an operation which has seen eight members of a major people smuggling network arrested in Greece.
The operation saw a speedboat intercepted off the island of Lefkada on July 14 as it headed towards Italy, carrying 14 migrants. The vessel attempted to out-run Greek authorities, but was eventually stopped after coastguards fired warning shots. The pilot was arrested after throwing himself into the sea in an attempt to escape, leaving the migrants adrift.
Shortly afterwards another seven people were arrested as Greek police raided a number of properties in Athens, seizing cash, mobile phones, forged travel documents and another boat. Those arrested included three Iraqi nationals, two Greek nationals, two Ukrainian nationals and one Turkish national. They will all now face charges.
The organized crime group (OCG) is alleged to have charged migrants between five and seven thousand euros to transport them through Greece and then onwards towards Italy. Many would then move up into northern Europe, with some ending up trying to reach the U.K.
National Crime Agency (NCA) officers, working as part of Project Invigor, played a crucial role in the operation, helping the Hellenic Police identify and locate the OCG’s leaders and providing support to the overall investigation.
“Through Project Invigor we are seeking to attack the people smuggling OCGs impacting upon the U.K. at every step of the route, in source countries, in transit countries like Greece, as well as at the U.K. border,” said Dave Hucker, Regional Head for NCA International. “This operation, which saw us work in partnership with the Greek police, is an example of that in action.
“There is no doubt that some of the migrants smuggled from Turkey, through Greece and onwards by this OCG would have ended up attempting to enter the U.K. illegally as well. Those involved in organized immigration crime are ruthless and happy to treat people as a commodity to be profited from. We are determined to do all we can to stop them.”
Project Invigor is the U.K.’s organized immigration crime taskforce set up to target the criminal networks behind people smuggling impacting on the U.K. Led by the NCA, it also includes Border Force, Immigration Enforcement and the Crown Prosecution Service. Officers work in the U.K. and internationally.