By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal
LONDON (AA) - At least 21 people have been arrested during an ongoing major operation across the U.K. aimed at cracking down on a human-trafficking gang, according to the National Crime Agency (NCA) Tuesday.
The NCA said in a statement the target is a suspected criminal network accused of smuggling hundreds of Iraqi-Kurdish migrants into the U.K.
“The strike was one of the NCA’s biggest since it began operations in 2013, with around 350 officers from the agency and its partners taking part,” the agency said.
The operation followed “an investigation into a Kurdish network suspected of smuggling people to the U.K. from France, Belgium and the Netherlands,” it said.
“Migrant are believed to have paid between £5,000 ($6,980) and £10,000 ($13,863) to be smuggled by the group.”
“The number of officers deployed today by the National Crime Agency, the police and partner agencies reflects the scale and severity of the suspected criminality,” NCA Deputy Director Tom Dowdall said.
Dowdall said the operation is one of the biggest by the NCA and he believed “we have identified and disrupted a significant network which is suspected of smuggling hundreds of migrants into the U.K. and planned to carry on going.”
“People smugglers don’t think twice about putting lives in danger, employing a range of dangerous methods as they attempt to evade border controls,” he added.
“It is a crime predicated on exploitation of vulnerable people and their treatment as a commodity instead of as human beings.”
The NCA-led operation came in close cooperation with the French Police Aux Frontieres, the Belgian Federal Police and Dutch Kmar following a year-long investigation which led up to the strike, according to the agency.
The latest operation took place in various addresses in Cleveland, Northumbria, Sussex while 21 arrests by the Metropolitan Police came at addresses across the North East, South Coast and London.
The investigation was part of Project Invigor, an NCA-led campaign to tackle organized immigration crime, the NCA statement added.