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French police arrest 15 after breaking Channel people-smuggling network

Published: Updated:

French police have detained 15 suspected members of an international migrant smuggling syndicate that helped people illegally cross the Channel to Britain.

The announcement comes as tensions grow between London and Paris over the record numbers of migrants crossing the Channel, with Britain urging tougher action from France to stop them making the voyage.

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Those arrested included Iraqi Kurds, Romanians, Pakistanis and Vietnamese who approached migrants in camps in Grande-Synthe outside Dunkirk in the north of France and encouraged them to cross to England in small boats, police said in a statement late Monday.

In an investigation that started in October 2020, French police said the network helped at a minimum 250 people per month cross to England, using small boats that transport up to 60 migrants at a time.

Passage to England would cost a migrant 6,000 euros ($6,800) and the smugglers racked up some 3 million euros ($3.4 million) in total profits, the illegal migration branch of the French police, OCRIEST, said in a statement.

“It was a network of hardened criminals who were well organized due to the complicity of drivers, secret financial backers and people who acted as lookouts for the police,” Xavier Delrieu, who led the investigation, told AFP.

The 15 were detained last week and around 40,000 euros ($45,000) in cash seized.

According to the French authorities, 31,500 people attempted to leave for Britain since the start of the year and 7,800 people have been rescued at sea, figures which doubled since August.

In Britain, the ruling right-wing Conservative party of Prime Minister Boris Johnson is coming under intense pressure, including from its own supporters, to reduce the numbers crossing.

According to British authorities, over 25,000 people have now arrived illegally across the Channel so far this year, already triple the figure recorded in 2020.

The issue has added to growing post-Brexit tensions between Britain and France, with a row on fishing rights also still unresolved.

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