One of largest migrant smuggling network in Europe dismantled

©German Federal Police

A large-scale operation involving law enforcement and judicial authorities from Belgium, France and Germany, coordinated by Europol and Eurojust, led to the dismantling of one of the most active networks involved in the smuggling of migrants across the English Channel in small boats.

The investigation focused on an Iraqi-Kurdish network suspected of smuggling Middle-Eastern and East African irregular migrants from France to the UK with the use of low quality inflatable boats. The German authorities deployed over 650 officers to the action day.

French and Belgian judicial orders executed in Germany led to 19 arrests and 28 locations raided following an over a yearlong joint investigation under Europol’s Operational Task Force Wave in an action day coordinated by Eurojust.

The seizures include 12 inflatable boats, 179 life vests + 81 flotation devices for children, 60 air pumps, 11 outboard mounts, 10 engines; almost 60 electronic devices, arms and cash.

The investigative activities, initiated at the end of 2022, identified the structure and modi operandi of this large criminal network, made up of Iraqi and Syrian nationals of Kurdish origin.

The suspects, all based in Germany, organised the purchase, storage and transportation of inflatable boats for their subsequent use to smuggle migrants from the beaches near the French city of Calais towards the UK.

The investigative activities identified that the criminal network was able to facilitate up to 8 departures per night depending on the weather conditions.

The smugglers used low quality boats, mainly originating from China, transported via Turkey to Germany.

The legal purpose of these boats may include fishing or sailing on rivers and city canals. When used legally, such boats would not be suitable nor safe for the transportation of more than 10 individuals. However, on average, smugglers put around 50 migrants in one of these boats.

In total, the investigators have gathered evidence linking at least 55 departures that were facilitated solely by this smuggling network. The suspects collected between €1000 and €3000 per migrant for a place on the dangerous vessel.

In 2023, law enforcement authorities detected almost 61,000 irregular migrants attempting to cross the English Channel in small boats, compared to about 79,000 in 2022.

However, during the same year, 30,000 irregular migrants (compared to over 47,000 in 2022) and 600 boats (compared to 1,100 in 2022) managed to reach the UK.