French police have busted a major people-smuggling ring that has been sending migrants to the United Kingdom in dinghies, with more than a dozen boats and 700 life jackets seized in a raid.
French authorities said on Thursday that the ring was run by Iraqi Kurdish migrants and had a logistics hub in Lille, a northern French city about 100 kilometres from the northern Channel beaches around Calais that are used for crossings.
Three Iraqi men have been charged, along with three French suspects, after their arrest on Monday.
Police discovered "a real factory supplying nautical equipment" in Lille, the head of French anti-migration agency Ocriest, Xavier Delrieu, told AFP.
€80,000 per crossing
In what was their biggest ever seizure of equipment, they found 13 inflatable boats, 14 outboard engines, 700 life jackets, 100 pumps and 700 litres of fuel, Delrieu said.
The group is suspected of organising 80 Channel crossings over the summer, of which 50 succeeded, with the smugglers netting around €80,000 for each one.
The arrests came due to intelligence-sharing between authorities in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and the UK, which are attempting to crack down on migrants crossing the Channel by boat.
The original tip-off came after a border guard control discovered a group of young French people carrying inflatables from Germany into the Netherlands.
- Sports retailer Decathlon halts sale of canoes in northern France to curb migrant crossings
- Nearly 700 migrants cross Channel in one day, a record for the year
So far this year, 28,561 people have made the dangerous trip across one of one of the world's busiest shipping routes, according to provisional Ministry of Defence figures.
Smuggling via small aircraft
Earlier this month, Eurojust, the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation, said that it had dismantled a criminal network involved in migrant smuggling, document fraud and money laundering that used small aircraft for their operations.
According to a press release published on 16 September, the migrants were mainly Iraqi and Iranian of Kurdish origin. Carrying false diplomatic passports, they boarded private aircraft in Turkey that were officially bound for destinations in the Caribbean.
However, those destinations were never reached. Instead the planes would land at European airports and unload the migrants, who ditched the fake documents and applied for asylum.
According to Eurojust, smugglers charged "up to €20,000 per smuggled person".