THE HAGUE, July 6 (Xinhua) -- Concerted work on several national law enforcement investigations across the European Union (EU) has led to the dismantling of a large criminal network involved in migrant smuggling, Europol, the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation, said here on Wednesday.
Close cooperation between the law enforcement and judicial authorities of Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, supported by Europol and Eurojust, the European judicial cooperation authority, has led to 39 arrests and over 50 location searches.
The criminal network is suspected of having used small boats to smuggle up to 10,000 migrants across the English Channel over the last 12 to 18 months. "It is believed to be the biggest ever international operation targeting small boat people smugglers," Europol said in a press release.
During the operation, the authorities also seized 1,200 lifejackets, close to 150 rubber boats and 50 engines, several thousand euros in cash, firearms and drugs. According to Europol, the operation targeted the leaders of the criminal network as well as its financial means, and therefore dealt a severe blow to "one of the most significant crime groups involved in cross-Channel migrant smuggling."
The investigation started in France on Nov. 30, 2021, following the arrest of 16 suspects for facilitating the smuggling of Vietnamese nationals from Calais, France, to the UK. Later arrests followed in Germany, Belgium, the UK and the Netherlands.