French police stop illegal immigrant smuggling to UK by Iraqi-Kurdish gang

French police have arrested a gang of smugglers who were using small boats to take illegal immigrants across the English Channel to the UK.

The gang, based in Lille and led by Iraqi Kurds, was detected thanks to intelligence sharing between German, Dutch, Belgian and British authorities, police said on September 22.

Three Iraqi men and three French suspects were arrested on September 19 and later charged, according to the French news agency AFP.

Police found 13 inflatable boats, 14 outboard motors, 700 life jackets, 100 pumps and 700 liters of fuel, according to Xavier Delrieu, head of France’s anti-illegal immigration agency Ocriest.

The ring is believed to be behind 80 illegal Channel crossings over the summer, 50 of which were successful. Smugglers could earn around 80,000 euros ($78,000) for each successful trip.

Groups of illegal immigrants are housed in tents after being brought to Dover, Kent from Border Force vessels following a number of small boat incidents in the English Channel, September 22, 2022 (Gareth Fuller/PA Media)

Persistent crisis

The number of illegal crossings has soared in recent years, with 28,526 people detected in 2021, compared to 8,466 in 2020, 1,843 in 2019 and 299 in 2018, according to figures from the Ministry of the Interior.

Since the beginning of 2022, more than 30,000 illegal immigrants have crossed the Channel to reach the United Kingdom.

According to the UK Ministry of Defence, 21 boats were intercepted on September 22 carrying 1,150 people, bringing the total to have made the crossing so far this year to 31,665.

The number of arrivals this week has led officials to erect special tents in Dover, Kent, to protect illegal immigrants as they appear to overflow existing facilities while they are processed.

Rwandan diet

In April, then Home Secretary Priti Patel signed a deal with Rwanda that involved sending illegal immigrants who had crossed the English Channel to the African country.

The agreement was designed to deter those making the trip by sea, but 26,397 people have arrived by boat since it was signed.

The first deportation flight to Rwanda was stalled amid legal challenges in June, and the case is not expected to be decided in UK courts until October.

The way UK authorities have handled small boats crossing the English Channel has been widely criticised.

Two recent reports have criticized the Home Office for its ‘ineffective’ response to the Channel illegal immigration challenge. One said the Border Force’s approach to preventing travel was “ineffective and possibly counterproductive”, while the other said the initial processing of those who arrived was “ineffective and ineffective”.

Lily Zhou and PA Media contributed to this report.

Alexander Zhang

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