Germany, France and Belgium conduct raids against suspected people smugglers

Brussels: A major operation involving law enforcement and judicial authorities from Belgium, France and Germany – coordinated by Europol and Eurojust – has led to the dismantling of one of the most active gangs involved in the smuggling of migrants across the English Channel to the UK.

Police in Germany, France and Belgium have carried out large-scale raids against suspected members of a people smuggling network in coordination with Europol, the EU law enforcement agency, and Eurojust, the EU agency for criminal justice cooperation.

More than 15 individuals have been arrested under Belgian and French judicial orders after a year-and-a-half-long joint investigation under Europol. The suspects are believed to have been involved in smuggling people across the English Channel in small boats, Europol announced in a statement on Wednesday (February 21).

The investigation focused on an Iraqi-Kurdish network suspected of smuggling Middle-Eastern and East African migrants from France to the UK with the use of low-quality inflatable boats, Europol wrote.

According to figures from the British Home Office, 621 people made the perilous crossing from the European mainland to the UK in small boats up to January 21 of this year. In 2023, more than 29,400 migrants arrived in Britain via the Channel.

In Germany, around 700 police personnel were deployed as part of the raid in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), which borders the Netherlands and Belgium and is the main focus of the operation, a local police spokesperson said.

Authorities issued arrest warrants in the double-digit range, the German Press Agency (dpa) reported, citing a police spokesperson in NRW.

A German Interior Ministry spokesman said the police raid on Wednesday morning in the German states of NRW, Hesse, Bavaria and Schleswig-Holstein was aimed at executing several European arrest warrants. Police in France and Belgium also took part, according to the German ministry.

Europol is expected to release further information about the cross-border operation later on Wednesday.