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European police target networks trafficking thousands of migrants to UK

Published: Updated:

Police in the UK and other European countries carried out a joint operation Tuesday targeting people suspected of smuggling migrants to Britain on small boats.

Britain’s National Crime Agency said six people were arrested in the Docklands and Catford areas of London, and that dozens of raids also took place in Germany, France and the Netherlands.

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In a statement, the agency said the operation targeted "criminal networks suspected of using small boats to smuggle thousands of people into the UK” French judicial authorities said the operation targeted a “major organized crime group” that allegedly facilitated people-smuggling across the English Channel from France to Britain.

Police in the German city of Osnabrueck said 18 people were arrested in northwestern and southwestern Germany on suspicion of involvement in organized smuggling of foreigners. They said more than 900 police officers carried out 36 searches in Germany, and that comparable operations took place in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Britain.

European justice agency Eurojust planned to hold a news conference about the operation in The Hague on Wednesday.

Thousands of people hoping to enter the UK try to cross the English Channel, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, in dinghies and other fragile craft every year.

More than 28,000 migrants reached Britain by way of the Channel last year, up from 8,500 in 2020. Dozens have died while attempting the crossing, including 27 people from a packed boat that capsized in November.

Migrants have long used northern France as a launching point to reach Britain, a destination favored by many for reasons of language or family ties, or because of Britain’s perceived open economy.

The British and French governments have worked for years to stop the journeys, without much success, and have bickered over who is responsible for the failure.

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