Author: JESSICA GREEN FOR MAILONLINE
A gang who charged migrants up to 5,000 euros (£4,500) to be smuggled across the Mediterranean have been dismantled, the National Crime Agency has said.
The group trafficked migrants across the sea from Egypt to Crete, before beginning journeys across Europe and sometimes into the UK.
Six suspected gang members aged between 23 and 49 were arrested during a series of raids on the Greek island on Monday, the NCA said.
The network is said to have given little regard to the safety of the migrants and is suspected of being responsible for 60 being rescued off the coast of Crete in an unseaworthy vessel.
The NCA, which leads people-smuggling task force Invigor, said the men face prosecution in Greece for allegedly arranging accommodation and transportation of migrants, while providing them with false travel documents.
Invigor head Chris Hogben said: ‘The kind of people-smuggling networks we see operating in the Mediterranean represent a huge risk to the lives of those they transport.
‘These criminal gangs treat migrants as a commodity to be profited out of – they don’t care about keeping them in horrendous conditions or using completely unsuitable or unseaworthy vessels to move them hundreds of miles across the sea.’
Members of a linked group were arrested in March last year when more than 100 migrants were found being held in caves and abandoned farm buildings, the NCA said.
The smuggling gang was jailed for a total of 1,400 years after forcing migrants to live in the filthy caves in Greece before charging £3,500 each to get them into Europe.
From the caves, the migrants were packed into crowded boats for an ‘incredibly dangerous journey’ to mainland Europe.
The smugglers were finally caught with a boat full of 112 migrants after a joint operation by European agencies, including the UK’s National Crime Agency.
Speaking at the time, Chris Hogben, head of the taskforce at the NCA said: ‘The utter disregard for human life shown by those groups was clearly demonstrated in this case, with migrants forced to live in squalor and then attempt an incredibly dangerous journey by sea.’