Three Albanians and an Irishman have been busted on suspicion of several smuggling runs to the UK from Belgium. Police believe the group, alleged to be part of a gang, used a rigid-hulled inflatable boat to collect migrants from Belgium and take them to the coastal town of Margate.
Albanians Arsen Feci, 44, and Klodian Senaj, 48, were arrested in Nottingham while an Irish man named Desmond Rice, 46, was busted in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire.
Another Albanian, Banet Tershana, 51, was arrested in Hove for supporting the group.
The men allegedly belong to a gang organising smuggling runs to the UK, including a number of crossings last year.
Colin Williams, Branch Commander of the National Crime Agency (NCA), said: “These arrests follow an extensive investigation into individuals who we believe were involved in a number of migrant crossings from Belgium to the Kent coast in 2022.
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“Tackling people smuggling continues to be a priority for the NCA as we target and disrupt 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.
At the time, two men were arrested as they arrived on the Belgian coast near Nieuwpoort one early morning.
Twelve migrants, including a child, were also taken into custody by the Belgian authorities. They were all Albanian nationals, it is believed.
The four men were remanded in custody and will appear at Nottingham Crown Court on 29 March 2023.
It comes as the Home Office reports record numbers of migrants turning to illegal smugglers to get across the English Channel.
According to the department, 45,755 migrants were detected arriving to the UK via small boats in 2022, 60 per cent more than the 28,526 in 2021.
Enforced returns – the vast majority of which are Foreign National Offenders (FNOs) – has decreased since a peak in 2012.
Between September 2021 and September 2022, 3,531 people were deported – 51 percent less than in 2019 before the pandemic (7,198).