Three held over Iraq to UK 'people-smuggling ring'

Image source, NCA
Image caption,
Officers believe the criminal network operated between Iraq and the UK

Three men have been arrested in an operation to tackle a people-smuggling network suspected of illegally bringing almost 3,000 migrants into Europe.

A 41-year-old from Oldham, suspected of leading the network, was later bailed after being questioned on suspicion of immigration offences.

A 35-year-old from Manchester and a 38-year-old from Stoke-on-Trent had been released on bail before the older man.

One of those rescued was a 15-year-old boy, the National Crime Agency said.

Officers believe the criminal network operated between Iraq and the UK.

They also arrested a 25-year-old man in Newton Heath, Manchester, on suspicion of illegally entering the UK.

The action on Thursday coincided with the arrests of two men in the Ghent area of Belgium following several months of joint operational work between the National Crime Agency (NCA) and Belgian Federal Police.

'Dangerous conditions'

In the Belgian operation, a 15-year-old boy was rescued before he boarded a lorry bound for the UK, an NCA spokesman said.

The swoop followed arrests made last month in Germany and Romania, co-ordinated by Europol and Eurojust.

The spokesman said the network, made up of smugglers, couriers and lorry drivers, is believed to be behind the smuggling of almost 3,000 migrants into Europe during a three-month period last year.

Business premises in Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Stoke-on-Trent were inspected, where 165lb (75kg) of hand-rolling tobacco and more than 500,000 cigarettes were discovered during searches.

NCA branch commander David Norris said: "Between the Middle East and the UK lies a network of highly organised criminal groups who smuggle desperate people in dangerous conditions for huge sums of money.

"The NCA takes people-smuggling extremely seriously. It's a crime based on exploitation of the vulnerable and puts the security of the UK's border at significant risk."

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