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Albanian people-smuggling gang ‘dismantled’ after arrests

The National Crime Agency said the gang was ‘prepared to smuggle migrants in lorries over one of the longer ferry and freight crossings into the UK’.

08 October 2022

An Albanian people-smuggling gang that transported migrants to the UK via Spain has been “dismantled” after a series of arrests, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said.

The organised crime network smuggled mainly Albanian migrants through the northern Spanish cities of Bilbao and Santander into the UK using ferries and freight shipping routes to Portsmouth, Southampton and Liverpool, the NCA said.

Each migrant is believed to have paid between between 3,000 and 15,000 euros (£2,600 to £13,000) to be smuggled, the agency said.

The migrants were believed to have come directly from Albania to Spain for onward travel, but were also recruited from camps around Spanish ports.

The smuggling network provided migrants with accommodation and food until they stowed away for their journey to the UK.

About 50 people who made the crossing have been identified by the UK and Spanish authorities and linked to the network, but the NCA said the true number who used the route is unknown.

NCA officers based in Spain and the UK worked with Spain’s Guardia Civil for over a year to identify the ringleaders of the organisation.

Between Monday and Wednesday, seven arrests were made – two in Madrid and five in the Basque region.

The NCA said two men believed to have been leaders of the gang were among those detained.

They predominantly lived in Albania but were arrested in Spain.

All seven will face prosecution in Spanish courts.

During the raids, investigators seized items including telephones, computers, bank cards and cash receipts as well as identity documents and passports of various nationalities.

Conservative Party Conference 2022
Suella Braverman addressed people smuggling in a speech to the Conservative Party conference last week (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

NCA international regional manager Steve Reynolds said: “People smugglers put lives at risk, which is why disrupting and dismantling criminal networks like this is a priority for the NCA and our partners.

“In this case we were faced with a crime group who were prepared to smuggle migrants in lorries over one of the longer ferry and freight crossings into the UK. The dangers of that are self-evident.

“Working closely with our Spanish counterparts we have been able to dismantle their operation and prevent further lives being put at risk.

“This operation demonstrates how the NCA is determined to take action against people smugglers at every step of the route towards the UK, including upstream in transit countries like Spain.”

At the Conservative Party conference last week, Home Secretary Suella Braverman told delegates: “The hard truth is that our modern slavery laws are being abused by people gaming the system.

“We’ve seen a 450% increase in modern slavery claims since 2014.

“Today, the largest group of small boats migrants are from Albania – a safe country. Many of them claim to be trafficked as modern slaves. That’s despite them having paid thousands of pounds to come here, or having willingly taken a dangerous journey across the Channel.

“The truth is that many of them are not modern slaves and their claims of being trafficked are lies.”

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