An Albanian people-smuggling gang that transported migrants to Britain via Spain has been “dismantled” after a series of arrests, the National Crime Agency (NCA) announced on Saturday.
Seven suspects were arrested, including two group leaders on Monday who were about to fly out of Madrid Airport to Albania, for keeping people in dangerous conditions as they were transferred in ferries and along freight shipping routes.
They will face prosecution in Spanish courts with further five arrests made in the Basque region.
Migrants were transferred at a cost of between £2,600 to £13,000 through the northern Spanish cities of Bilbao and Santander into Portsmouth, Southampton and Liverpool.
Co-operation with Guardia Civil
The gang was branded an “important criminal organisation” during the operation staged in connection with the UK’s National Crime Agency, the Guardia Civil police force said.
“The methods used to conceal them posed a risk to the life or physical integrity of the migrants, some of them minors,” the statement said.
Steve Reynolds, the NCA’s international regional manager, said: “People smugglers put lives at risk, which is why disrupting and dismantling criminal networks like this is a priority for the NCA and our partners.
“In this case we were faced with a crime group who were prepared to smuggle migrants in lorries over one of the longer ferry and freight crossings into the UK. The dangers of that are self-evident.
“Working closely with our Spanish counterparts we have been able to dismantle their operation and prevent further lives being put at risk.
“This operation demonstrates how the NCA is determined to take action against people smugglers at every step of the route towards the UK, including upstream in transit countries like Spain.”
From Albania to Spain
Migrants are believed to have been smuggled in from Albania to Spain before leaving the country, but others were moved from camps based near Spanish ports.
A total of 50 people who crossed into Britain have been linked to the network by both UK and Spanish authorities.
But the actual number of people being smuggled in by the gang, which has been active since 2014, remains unknown.
Computers, bank cards and cash receipts, along with identity documents and passports of different nationalities, were seized by investigators during the raids.
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