Huge human trafficking ring flying hundreds of migrants, including children as young as five, into UK smashed by police

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A huge human trafficking ring that has been flying hundreds of Iranian migrants, some as young as five, into Britain has been smashed after the arrest of more than 100 people by European law enforcers and the Met.

The alleged leader of the criminal gang was detained at Heathrow as he tried to escape justice by flying to Brazil. Another 14 gang members were held in Malaga, southern Spain, where the smuggling operation was based.

The EU’s law enforcement agency, Europol, said that more than 200 people a year had been smuggled by the gang over a number of years. Most were flown into Britain, although some were sent to other European countries.

Europol said the gang had run a “perfectly structured” criminal operation in which each migrant was charged around £22,000 and provided with accommodation, transfers and flights.

There was no immediate information from the Home Office about how many Iranians have managed to enter Britain illegally or whether any of those detained have been removed from the country.

But the discovery of the operation will raise renewed concerns about the security of Britain’s borders and the ability of traffickers to use fake or legitimate documents from other EU countries to smuggle illegal migrants into the country.

Europol said that more than 200 people a year had been smuggled by the gang over a number of years (PA)

Announcing the successful operation against the gang today, Europol said that Spanish National Police had “dismantled an international criminal network involved in smuggling Iranian nationals into the UK on commercial flights” on an “action day” across Europe.

As the well as the alleged ringleader arrested at Heathow, another 14 members of the trafficking ring were arrested in Spain, along with 42 Spanish citizens suspected of selling their documents to help the gang carry out is smuggling operation. 

A total of 44 Iranians were also detained at airports across Europe carrying forged passports. Seven other Iranians, including a child aged five, were also found during searches carried out by Spanish police. Passports, more than 400 blank identity cards, firearms, cash, computers, printers and a “high-end vehicle” were also seized during the searches.

​Europol said that law enforcers had become aware of the gang, which was operating out of Malaga in southern Spain, after seven Iranian citizens were caught a year ago using fake passports to board a lane flying to this country from Germany.

Investigations found that the flight tickets had been bought at travel agnecy in Malaga and realised that there was “a migrant smuggling network operating in the city”.

“The criminal group was perfectly structured and each member had a defined role, ranging from recruiting the irregular migrants in their country of origin, to facilitating the transfers, hosting them in safe houses in Spain, and supplying the travel documents,” Europol said.

“The network operated from Málaga and used Spain as a transit country. In total, 101 individuals were arrested. The Spanish National Police arrested 14 members of the criminal group in Málaga, as well as another 42 individuals accused of selling their Spanish documents to the members of the organisation for prices ranging from 500 euros (£445) to 3000 euros (£2,680). 

“Another 44 individuals of Iranian nationality were intercepted at different European airports carrying forged passports. The leader of the criminal group was arrested by the Metropolitan Police at Heathrow airport, after a European Arrest Warrant was issued by the Spanish authorities. The suspect intended to take a flight to Brazil to evade justice.”

Europol added that searches of safe houses in Spain had led to the discovery of seven other Iranians, including a five-year-old child, as well as 40 authentic Iranian and Spanish passports and other equipment used by the criminal gang.

A spokesman for Europol added that it was difficult to estimate the exact number of the numbers trafficked into Britain by the gang but that “around 200 Iranians were smuggled per year, most of them to the UK but not all”. He added that the gang had been operating for “various” years before it was detected but that it was not possible to give a “concrete” length of time.

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