Four men, including three Albanians and an Irishman, have been arrested on suspicion of smuggling migrants from Belgium to the UK. The group, believed to be part of a larger gang, allegedly used a rigid-hulled inflatable boat to transport migrants to the coastal town of Margate.
The arrested Albanians, Arsen Feci and Klodian Senaj, were detained in Nottingham, while Banet Tershana was arrested in Hove for supporting the group. The Irishman, Desmond Rice, was apprehended in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) said that tackling people smuggling remains a priority, and these arrests are part of an extensive investigation into individuals involved in a number of migrant crossings from Belgium to the Kent coast last year.
The NCA’s Branch Commander, Colin Williams, added that the agency targets and disrupts organised crime groups at every step of the route. The operation to take down the men is connected to two arrests in Belgium in October 2022, where two men were apprehended as they arrived on the Belgian coast near Nieuwpoort.
Twelve migrants, including a child, were also taken into custody by the Belgian authorities, and it is believed that they were all Albanian nationals.
The arrests come as the UK Home Office reports a record number of migrants turning to illegal smugglers to cross the English Channel. According to the department, 45,755 migrants were detected arriving to the UK via small boats in 2022, which is 60% more than the 28,526 in 2021.
In contrast, enforced returns, the vast majority of which are Foreign National Offenders, has decreased since a peak in 2012. Between September 2021 and September 2022, 3,531 people were deported, which is 51% less than in 2019 before the pandemic.
The four men have been remanded in custody and are expected to appear in court on March 29, 2023. The NCA will continue to investigate and tackle organised crime groups involved in people smuggling.