UK, Belgium arrest three for ‘Albanian people-smuggling’
British and Belgian law enforcement officers on Monday said they had arrested three people suspected of being part of an Albanian people-smuggling ring.
The Belgian Federal Police detained two men aged 34 and 44 from Basingstoke in southern England at the coastal town of Nieuwpoort early on Sunday with 12 migrants, all of whom are believed to be Albanian.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) later arrested a third man in Aylesbury, also in southern England, on suspicion of assisting unlawful immigration.
Albanian organised crime gang groups are believed to be among the main players in smuggling migrants across the Channel to Britain from northern Europe.
Citizens from the country on southeastern Europe’s Balkan peninsula now constitute the biggest single group making the small-boat crossings, according to UK government statistics.
The government in London has promised to speed up removals of Albanians who have illegally entered the country.
NCA branch commander Colin Williams said: “We believe this operation has disrupted a suspected organised crime group involved in bringing people to the UK illegally.”
Belgian public prosecutor Frank Demeester said tackling people smuggling was an “absolute priority” and praised cooperation with Britain and European partners.
Small-boat crossings of the Channel have become a political headache for UK ministers, who vowed that Brexit would lead to tighter immigration controls.
Numbers have reached record levels, causing delays in asylum applications and increasing costs in terms of housing and other social services.
The NCA said it had more than 60 “live” investigations into networks or individuals in the “top tier” of organised immigration crime or human trafficking. Many are based overseas.