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Dozens of migrants crossed the English Channel by small boat today after it was revealed that more than 40 people were arrested in an international operation targeting people smugglers.
The first arrivals were escorted to Dover, Kent on board Border Force cutter Vigilant shortly before 8am.
The mostly male group, who carried their belongings in plastic carrier bags, were escorted along the gangway by soldiers dressed in camouflage fatigues.
A second group of around 30 people, which included a number of women and children, was brought into the harbour on Border Force vessel Defender around an hour later.
At least two people could be seen carrying small babies in a life jackets as they disembarked the boat, while around three more toddlers were helped off the vessel. Several migrants appeared cold as they stood waiting to be taken along the walkway for processing by UK officials – with blue blankets wrapped around their shoulders.
Border Force cutter Defender later returned to the port with a third group of migrants who had been intercepted in the Channel.
The migrants landed on British shores just as up to 40 people were arrested in a series of raids across Europe as the National Crime Agency (NCA) this week joined the biggest ever international operation designed to crack down on human traffickers and illegal smuggling operations.
Dramatic video captured a slew of raids that took place in the UK, Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands yesterday as part of the operation.
The first arrivals, mainly teenage boys, were escorted to Dover, Kent on board Border Force cutter Vigilant shortly before 8am
A migrant woman is wrapped in a blanket as she attempts to recover from the cold crossing earlier today
Several migrants appeared cold as they stood waiting to be taken along the walkway for processing by UK officials
An individual is arrested by National Crime Agency officers in connection with people smuggling operations
Operation Punjum, led by the NCA in Britain, was carried out alongside Operation Thoren in Europe to smash gangs allegedly charging migrants up to £3,500 each to take them to the UK in boats packed with up to 60 people at a time.
‘Mr Big’ Hewa Rahimpur, a 29-year-old Iranian, is accused of overseeing one ‘slick’ operation to source boats in Turkey before having them delivered to warehouses in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands and eventually moved to northern France.
NCA officers arrested six people in London – including two who were detained on suspicion of conspiring to facilitate illegal immigration.
Two other men were arrested for immigration offences, while a man and woman were both detained on suspicion of possessing class A drugs with intent to supply.
There have been more than 40 arrests across all the countries involved, with 900 life jackets found and 60 small boats, such as dinghies, recovered at one location alone.
NCA Deputy Director of Investigations Jacque Beer said: ‘This international investigation is targeting one of the most significant and most prolific crime groups involved in supplying small boats and moving migrants across the Channel.’
How migrants are moving boats from Turkey to the UK
Hewa Rahimpur, a 29-year-old Iranian, is accused of overseeing a ‘slick’ operation to supply boats to be used in illegal Channel crossings.
This is how the system allegedly worked:
1 – Gangs source boats in Turkey;
2 – They are smuggled into Europe and kept in warehouses in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands;
3 – Associates then take them to northern France when they are needed to ship migrants to Britain.
Beer continued: ‘The NCA has played a key role, which has been months in the planning.
‘We worked closely with partners in France, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands to identify suspected members of this network.
‘Criminal gangs involved in small boat crossings should know that we are committed to throwing the full weight of European law enforcement at curtailing your activities.’
Home Secretary Priti Patel said: ‘These arrests send a clear message to the criminal gangs who are preying on vulnerable people across Europe and beyond: we will stop at nothing to end your sordid trade, bring you to justice and save lives.
‘This hugely significant operation once again shows the NCA and our international partners working diligently to dismantle people-smuggling networks.
‘These callous individuals treat human lives as a commodity and we will continue to work with our partners to ensure that they feel the full force of our new, tougher laws designed to break their business model and suitably punish them for their despicable crimes.’
A total of 12,855 people have made the treacherous journey across the 21-mile Dover Straits in 383 boats so far this year, according to data released by the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
A punctured dinghy that was used by migrants to cross the English Channel is pulled into the Port of Dover, in Dover, Britain, June 14, 2022
Around 40 people have been arrested in a series of raids across Europe as the NCA joined the biggest ever international operation targeting small boat people smugglers this week
National Crime Agency officers inspect a location in connection with people smuggling
Despite the latest measures to deter traffickers, migrant crossings are expected to increase this week as the weather forecast in the Channel improves.
A total of 28,526 people made the journey in 2021 – compared to 8,410 who arrived in 2020.
A Government spokesperson said: ‘The rise in dangerous Channel crossings is unacceptable.
‘Not only are they an overt abuse of our immigration laws, but they risk lives and hinder our ability to help refugees who come to the UK through safe and legal routes.
‘The Nationality and Borders Act will enable us to crack down on abuse of the system and the evil people smugglers, who will now be subject to a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
‘Under our new Migration and Economic Development Partnership with Rwanda, we are continuing preparations to relocate those who are making dangerous, unnecessary and illegal journeys into the UK in order for their claims to be considered and rebuild their lives.’