Nearly 50 people have been arrested after police smashed a human trafficking gang which used UK short-stay visas to smuggle Moroccan migrants into Europe.
Police say the gang made around one million pounds from their crimes by charging each migrant trafficked from North Africa up to £7,000.
The 47 arrests took place during a joint operation led by Spanish police and Royal Gibraltar Police officers coordinated by EUROPOL.
More than £15,000 in cash, 12 mobiles phones and five vehicles were seized during searches in Gibraltar and the town of La Linea the other side of the border in Spain.
A spokesman for Spain’s National Police said in a statement: ‘Forty-seven people have been arrested in a joint operation of the Spanish National Police and Royal Gibraltar Police for their suspected membership of a criminal organisation and trafficking of migrants between Gibraltar, Spain and several other European countries.
‘The organisation charged each migrant from Morocco between £6,000 and £6,800, which enabled them to obtain a profit of nearly one million pounds.’
Police said the investigation began in November 2018 after the RGP detected a significant increase in the number of Moroccans arriving in Gibraltar from Tangiers on short-stay UK visas.
The visas are not valid for entry into or transit through Schengen area countries, meaning they could not be used to enter Spain.
The National Police spokesman said: ‘In Morocco the gang planned the migrants’ trips and prepared the visa requests using false documentation.
‘Once they got the visas, they bought the migrants plane tickets and reserved their hotel in Gibraltar.
‘From Gibraltar they were helped to cross the border into Spain illegally, using 4x4s with Gibraltarian number-plates and tinted back windows where they were hidden and taken to La Linea at night-time when visibility was worse than during the day.
‘Once they crossed the border they were put up in the homes of gang leaders or in hostels in La Linea before being put on a bus the following day to another Spanish province or European country.’
The operation to smash the gang is said to have involved 200 police officers. Police say the gang’s criminal activity affected 18 Spanish provinces and five European countries.