International operation sees 18 suspected people smugglers arrested

4 March 2017

Cave where migrants were foundEighteen people have been arrested as part of an international investigation into the smuggling of illegal migrants from Greece into Italy.

Those arrested, all men aged between 18 and 23, were held after a series of raids in Crete yesterday (3 March), following an operation involving the Hellenic Police, Hellenic Coastguard and National Crime Agency.

112 migrants were rescued after being found in a cave and farm buildings close to the village of Tsoutsouros, Southern Crete. Officers also recovered a firearm from the scene.

NCA investigators believe the suspects, including Syrian, Afghan, Pakistani, Egyptian and Greek nationals, are part of a transnational organised crime group which has facilitated the smuggling of migrants seeking to leave Greece illegally and travel on to northern Europe.

Those making journeys would be charged between €2000 and €4000 per person for transport from Athens to Crete, and onward facilitation by sea to Italy.

The rescued migrants are now being cared for by the Hellenic authorities.

Chris Hogben, from the NCA, who is Deputy Head of the UK’s Organised Immigration Crime taskforce Project Invigor, said: “The migrants, including many women and children, were kept in very poor conditions in caves and squalid farm buildings.

“This NCA’s work in partnership with Greek authorities continues to produce important results. Our close collaboration and intelligence sharing is vital to our ability to protect life and disrupt the criminals making money from people’s misery.

“We will continue to work with our partners around the world and in the UK to pursue organised people smugglers, and take action against them.”

The UK's Organised Immigration Crime taskforce, Project Invigor, targets the criminal networks behind people smuggling. It is led by the NCA and includes partners such as Immigration Enforcement, Border Force and the Crown Prosecution Service, working in the UK and internationally.



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