Belgium smashes ring smuggling migrants to Britain: Police

BRUSSELS (AFP) - Belgian police aided by their British counterparts said on Monday (Jan 11) they have smashed a ring that smuggled possibly thousands of migrants into Britain, with 12 suspects arrested in the case.

Iraqi Kurds ran the ring which between May and November charged migrants 2,000 euros (S$3,114) each to hide them in lorries heading to England, the police said in a statement.

"The gang operated very frequently, almost daily, and smuggled a large number of people every day, up to 20 people per night, or hundreds of people per month," police said.

"The result of this Belgian investigation, carried out with the help of the British authorities, can be considered a big blow in the fight against organised people smuggling."

Belgium's De Standaard newspaper estimated that the ring smuggled up to 3,000 migrants to Britain, a figure prosecutors said was plausible even if they did not confirm it.

The smugglers hid the migrants in lorries, many of them refrigerated and potentially dangerous, as they were parked at night along highways near the Belgian capital Brussels or between Ghent and Antwerp, the country's main port, police said.

Ghent prosecutors' spokeswoman Eva Brantegem said the two suspected ring leaders were arrested in Britain last week in cooperation with Britain's National Crime Agency. Belgium has asked for their extradition.

Police added that 10 Iraqi Kurdish men suspected of participating in the ring were already in custody after being arrested in Belgium between May 22 and Nov 25 last year.

Europol told AFP last year that it estimated around 30,000 people were involved in smuggling migrants into and through Europe in the continent's biggest migration crisis since World War II.