British immigration officials arrested three people in simultaneous 6 a.m. raids in London on Tuesday as part of an international investigation into migrant smuggling by small boat.
In a government statement published on Wednesday, the Home Office and Immigration Enforcement said the three people were arrested on suspicion of “assisting unlawful immigration to the UK.”
The three arrested at separate London addresses, a 36-year-old Iranian man arrested in Streatham, a 40-year-old British woman in Greenhithe, and a 33-year-old British man in Enfield, are thought to be part of an organized crime ring, the government said.
As part of the same operation, seven arrests were made in France and two in the Netherlands by French and Dutch officials, who also seized “a number of vessels and related equipment,” the government said.
Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and the UK all cooperated in the two-day operation, which led to the “dismantling of a large network of criminals smuggling migrants in life-threatening conditions through the English Channel,” Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, said in a statement.
Home Secretary Priti Patel gave a stark warning to people smugglers behind the notoriously risky Channel crossings.
“I will not tolerate the illegally facilitated, dangerous crossings of the Channel,” she said in the government statement.
“I want these arrests to send a clear message to the gangs engaged in people smuggling—we are coming for you,” she added. “My commitment to solving this problem is absolute.”
Europol’s Robert Crepinko, head of the European Migrant Smuggling Center, also condemned the dangerous illegal crossings organized by “ruthless criminals” who are “risking migrants’ lives for profit.”
According to think tank Migration Watch UK, 7,221 people in around 400 boats have been discovered crossing the Channel illegally since the start of the year.
There were at least 1,974 illegal migrants smuggled across in September alone, Migration Watch UK said, which is 139 more than in the whole of 2019.
The average number of illegal migrants per boat also appears to be increasing, going from just under eight to over 12 since early 2019, Migration Watch UK said.
The government said that those arrested are thought to have bought rigid-hulled inflatable boats, outboard motors, and lifejackets, and charged each person around 3,000 pounds ($3,850) to illegally cross the Channel, which separates southern England from northern France, the UK government said.
They are suspected of being part of an organized crime ring consisting “mainly of Iranian nationals living in France, the Netherlands and the UK,” Europol said.
Also seized during the London operation by Immigration Enforcement’s Criminal and Financial Investigation team were 40,000 pounds ($51,400) in cash and four cars.
Britain’s National Crime Agency said on Wednesday that, in a separate cooperation with French law enforcement, almost 100 suspected people smugglers had been arrested in France since the collaboration began two months ago.
In addition, the Joint Intelligence Cell had helped prevent 500 migrants from attempting to cross the Channel in small boats.