Albanian people-smuggling gang ‘dismantled’ by UK and Spanish police

Gang branded an ‘important criminal organisation’ by Spanish police, who co-operated with the UK’s National Crime Agency in the operation.

An Albanian organised crime ring involved in smuggling migrants to the UK via Spain has been dismantled.

The network facilitated journeys of mainly Albanian migrants, smuggling them through the northern Spanish cities of Bilbao and Santander into the UK using ferries and freight shipping routes to Portsmouth, Southampton and Liverpool.

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

Described by Spanish prosecutors as high level and well organised, the criminal gang would provide migrants with accommodation and food until they successfully stowed away for their journey to the UK.

Each are believed to have paid between 3,000 and 15,000 euros to be smuggled.

The true numbers who used the route are unknown, but around fifty individuals who made the crossing have been identified by the UK and Spanish authorities and linked to the network.

The network was dismantled after the gang’s ringleaders were identified following a year-long joint operation between the UK’s National Crime Agency and Spain’s Guardia Civil.

Between 3rd and 5th October seven arrests were made, two in Madrid and a further five in the Basque region.

Among those detained are two men believed to be the heads of the criminal network, who predominantly lived in Albania but were arrested while they were in Spain.

All seven will now face prosecution in Spanish courts.

During the raids, which were supported by NCA officers based in Spain, investigators seized numerous items of interest, including telephones, computers, bank cards and cash receipts as well as several identity documents and passports of various nationalities.

NCA International Regional Manager Steve Reynolds said: “People smugglers put lives at risk. 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.”

Graham Hancock, who heads up the NCA-led Invigor UK Organised Immigration Crime Taskforce, added: “Organised immigration crime is something which is constantly evolving, and we are always alive to the changes in the threat, whether that be different routes or methods used by the criminal networks involved.

“The transnational nature of these groups makes international collaboration essential, and we are targeting those that impact the UK at every stage of the journey – from source, in transit, to destination country.

“This is an international problem – people smugglers are not just targeting the UK. We continue to generate and share intelligence with international partners, and UK intelligence has been directly responsible for arresting facilitators both in the UK and overseas.”

Source: ITV

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