Europol and NCA break up Athens-based people smuggling gang

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Europol and the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) have disrupted a people smuggling group involved in trafficking migrants from Greece to other EU nations after months of investigations.

The operation resulted in the arrest of 12 people in Athens. Seven of those detained were members of the smuggling ring, while four were migrants who were about to be trafficked out of Greece. One Afghan national was also held for carrying a false identity card.

Members of the gang charged migrants as much as €16,000 to be surreptitiously shipped out of Greece, and used the informal Hawala money transfer system to process their ill-gotten gains.

The group smuggled migrants out of the country either by land via the so-called Balkan route or by air to Macedonia, from where onward transport was organised.

Migrants were charged according to a pricing structure based on the country they wanted to reach. The gang demanded up to €6,000 for travel to most EU countries, but passage to the UK typically set back would-be asylum seekers as much as €10,000. A trip to Canada was priced at €16,000.

The gang supplied the migrants with fake or stolen passports.

, newly re-elected British MP Charlie Elphicke said: “Ruthless people traffickers are fleecing vulnerable people for thousands of pounds. They are making a fortune by helping migrants break into Britain.

“This is why we must crack down on these evil modern slavers. They should face longer jail terms and have their assets seized upon conviction.”

Separately, an NCA investigation into an Albanian trafficking gang that smuggled migrants across the English Channel from France has resulted in the detention of eight men.

The arrests resulted from a probe that was launched after an abandoned rigid-hulled inflatable boat containing life jackets was discovered on a British beach in May 2016.

Weeks later, 18 Albanians were rescued from a similar vessel that had broken down while travelling to the England.

Leonard Powell, George Powell, Alfie Powell, Wayne Bath, Alan Viles, Albert Letchford, Francis Wade and Sabah Dulaj, an Albanian national, are said to be linked to both incidents.

The eight men are due to appear in court next month to face human trafficking charges.

Brendan Foreman, the NCA’s Regional Head of Investigations commented: “National Crime Agency officers have been running a complex investigation for more than a year targeting those alleged to be involved in smuggling migrants using small boats.

“The NCA and its partners in Border Force, Immigration Enforcement, Kent Police and the wider policing community work collaboratively to disrupt any activity that puts people’s lives at risk and threatens the integrity of the UK’s Border.”