Cross-Channel operation leads to arrest of 26 people suspected of attempting to smuggle hundreds of migrants to Britain
French and British police say they have broken a human trafficking ring, arresting 26 people who were attempting to smuggle hundreds of migrants to the UK.
Scores of officers raided properties in Kent and France today in what is believed to be one of the biggest initiatives of its kind between forces from the two countries.
Damian Green, the immigration minister, said the arrests proved the value of close co-operation between the UK and France.
"Secure border controls are an absolute priority if we are to put an end to abuses of the system, and prevent people from coming to the UK through illegal routes," he said.
"That is why I am committed to working with my French counterpart to continue to improve security, and why we will continue with our successful summer operations against illegal immigration."
The French authorities said 18 suspected traffickers were arrested in France and eight more in Britain. They are accused of smuggling hundreds of Albanians and Sri Lankans to the UK, charging between £1,500 and £4,000 a person.
Dozens of migrants were also detained during the operation, according to a statement from the French immigration ministry.
Last year France and the UK signed a deal aimed at tackling the growing number of migrants gathered at Calais. The agreement saw the UK allocate £15m to tighten British border controls and France promise to begin voluntary and forced repatriations.
The deal, agreed as Gordon Brown met Nicolas Sarkozy for a pre-G8 summit, was hailed as a breakthrough by the UK authorities who said it was the first time France had explicitly agreed to step up removal flights from northern France.
In September last year the French authorities closed down a makeshift camp in Calais known as "the jungle", which was home to hundreds of migrants, mostly Afghans. It signalled the start of a widespread crackdown by the French authorities that some campaign groups say has lead to the heavy-handed treatment of minority groups across the country.
The French authorities said today's arrests were part of an ongoing operation. Green said: "This operation demonstrates how crucial it is that the UK Border Agency [UKBA], Serious Organised Crime Agency [Soca], the police, and French law enforcement work together to crack down on immigration crime, and put a stop to the trafficking that preys on the vulnerable and destroys lives."
The Home Office said the operation was co-ordinated by the Joint Intelligence Unit in Folkestone, which consists of the UKBA, Soca, Kent police, the French border police and the French anti-illegal immigration agency.