People-smuggling trade ‘generated around 60 million euro in 2021’

More than 100 boats were seized during a day of action across multiple countries on Tuesday.

Operation Punjum
Operation Punjum

A people-smuggling group thought to have been responsible for around 10% of all small boats crossing the Channel last year has been targeted by an international investigation.

Dozens of arrests have been made in the biggest international police operation of its kind to catch a people-smuggling gang suspected of being behind thousands of Channel crossings.

It is thought the people-smuggling trade as a whole generated more than 60 million euro (£51.5 million) in 2021, said Jean-Philippe Lecouffe, deputy executive director of Europol.

A slew of raids took place in the UK, Germany, France and the Netherlands on Tuesday as part of a joint operation co-ordinated by Europol with Eurojust, the European Union’s criminal justice co-operation agency.

Operation Punjum, led by the National Crime Agency (NCA) in the UK, was carried out alongside Operation Thoren in Europe to target an organised crime gang suspected of smuggling up to 10,000 migrants across the Channel in the last 12 to 18 months.

Operation Punjum
A search being carried out at a location the north-western city of Osnabruck, Germany, as part of Operation Punjum (PA)

During a day of action on Tuesday, 39 people were arrested and more than 50 searches were carried out simultaneously.

Around 1,200 lifejackets, close to 150 boats and 50 engines, several thousand euro in cash, firearms and drugs were seized. More than 900 police officers were deployed in the operation.

More information on the European operation was shared at a Eurojust press conference in The Hague in the Netherlands on Wednesday morning.

Eurojust has built up extensive expertise in the field of migrant smuggling, with the Agency last year supporting 292 cases and 11 joint investigation teams.

The agency assisted with taking down a smuggling network which used taxis to transfer migrants through Greece, as well as helping to dismantle another organised crime group which smuggled Syrian migrants to the EU via the Hungarian border.

It also assisted in the successful takedown of a migrant smuggling network in Romania and Moldova.

Speaking at the Eurojust press conference Matt Rivers, regional head of investigations at the NCA, said: “This level of cooperation is unprecedented. This group we have targeted may have been involved in smuggling up to 10,000 migrants to the UK. These people risk lives in the pursuit of profit.”

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