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A series of arrests have taken place in the UK, France and Germany by investigators targeting a suspected people smuggling gang.
Eighteen people have been arrested following a major pan-European operation targeting suspected people smuggling gangs.
At around 5am on Wednesday 22 May immigration and police officers from Home Office Immigration Enforcement and Kent Police carried out simultaneous raids on addresses in London, Luton and Essex.
Eleven people were arrested on suspicion of conspiring to facilitate illegal immigration.
At the same time raids also took place in France and Germany. Seven people were arrested in France.
The arrests were the culmination of a joint investigation involving Home Office Immigration Enforcement investigators, Kent Police, the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), Europol and French and German law enforcement agencies.
Those arrested are suspected of being part of an alleged criminal network believed to assist Sri Lankan illegal immigrants attempting to reach the UK by smuggling them in vehicles through the Channel ports. Some would also travel onwards from the UK to North America using falsified documents.
It is believed clients could be charged around £4,500 to reach the UK from France.
Those arrested in the UK have been taken to a police station in Kent to be questioned.
In addition computers, documents, cash and mobile phones were seized from a number of addresses and will now be examined.
Rob Allen, Assistant Director for Immigration Enforcement Criminal and Financial Investigations, said:
People smuggling is an international crime which requires international co-operation, and the arrests made today show that co-operation is yielding results.
We believe this operation will have a significant impact on an organised network we suspect has been a major player in terms of bringing Sri Lankan nationals to the UK illegally.
Our investigation will continue with the evidence we have seized today.
Deputy Chief Constable of Kent Police, Alan Pughsley, said:
This sends a strong message to the criminals who seek to use our ports in this illegal trade: We will work together with UK and overseas partners to track you down and bring you to justice.
The operations in the UK, France and Germany were supported and coordinated by Europol and Eurojust.