French and Dutch police arrested 23 people on suspicion of smuggling 10,000 Kurdish migrants to Britain in refrigerated lorries and rubber boats, Europe’s judicial agency said on Wednesday.
Nineteen suspects were held in France and four in the Netherlands following a 16-month probe, Eurojust said.
The gang charged close to £6,000 per person to cross the channel, and made around £60 million in total profits, the agency reported.
The gang ‘are suspected of facilitating the illegal transport of approximately 10,000 Kurdish immigrants to the United Kingdom in refrigerated lorries and small rubber boats,’ it said.
The network picked migrants up from rest areas between Le Mans and Poitiers, in western France, before taking them across the English Channel.
The probe extended to the Netherlands after vehicles with Dutch licence plates were seen to be involved.
The payments were made through a ‘hawala’ banking operation in the Netherlands – an informal network of money transfers conducted through face-to-face guarantees.
French authorities on Tuesday they intercepted more than 40 migrants, including 11 children trying to cross the Channel to Britain.
The latest intercepts, combined with dozens of others earlier in January, reveal a continued sharp increase to dangerous crossing attempts to the United Kingdom.
Since the end of 2018, attempts by migrants from Africa, the Middle East and South Asia to make the dangerous crossing via the icy and choppy waters of the English Channel have multiplied, according to official data.
Rights groups have linked the sharp increase in crossings to a police crackdown aimed at preventing the establishment of migrant camps near Calais, home to a busy ferry port and the Eurotunnel, and other areas along the French coast.
Last year, a total of 2,758 migrants were intercepted, four times the number detained the previous year, according to the French maritime police.
Four are known to have died trying to cross the Channel.