UK, Spain Dismantle Human Smuggling Ring

Published: 12 October 2022

NCA GuardiCivil HSmugglingU.K. and Spanish authorities dismantled a human smuggling ring and arrested seven suspects, including the gang's leaders. (Photo: Guardia Civil, License)

By Zdravko Ljubas

U.K. and Spanish authorities said they have dismantled an Albanian organized crime group involved in smuggling people to the U.K. via Spain, and warned that organized immigration crime is evolving.

In a joint operation that took place between October 3rd and 5th, the U.K. National Crime Agency (NCA) and Spanish Guardia Civil arrested seven suspects, two in Madrid and five in the Basque region, NCA said in a statement.

Two of the arrested, according to Guardia Civil, are believed to be the leaders of the criminal network. The authorities identified them as “drivers” – Albanian nationals living in Albania and being in charge of organizing smuggling tours and driving people to Spain, where they would also spend some time before returning to their homeland.

During the raids, authorities confiscated phones, computers, bank cards, and cash receipts as well as many identification documents and passports of various countries.

Spanish authorities described the gang as a well-organized, high-level criminal network that provided migrants with lodging and food during their voyage to the U.K., according to the NCA. It added that migrants would pay 3,000 to 15,000 euro (US$2,910 to 14,554) for a “travel deal.”

The two law enforcement agencies said they worked together for over a year to identify the ringleaders of the organization that brought mainly Albanian migrants through the northern Spanish cities of Bilbao and Santander into the U.K. using ferries and freight shipping routes.

“In this case we were faced with a crime group who were prepared to smuggle migrants in lorries over one of the longer ferry and freight crossings into the U.K.,” NCA International Regional Manager, Steve Reynolds, said.

The migrants were thought to have traveled straight from Albania to Spain, but they were also recruited from camps near Spanish port facilities, according to NCA.

The gang’s attention was not limited to Spain and the U.K., as it was able to broaden its sphere of influence to other European nations via the so-called Balkan Route, as Spanish authorities reported.

NCA claims that the true number of people smuggled along this route remains unknown. However, around 50 “individuals who made the crossing have been identified by the U.K. and Spanish authorities and linked to the network.”

“Organized immigration crime is something which is constantly evolving, and we are always alive to the changes in the threat, whether that be different routes or methods used by the criminal networks involved,” head of the NCA-led Invigor UK Organized Immigration Crime Taskforce, Graham Hancock, warned.

He also stressed that human smuggling is an international issue and that people smugglers do not only target the U.K.

“We continue to generate and share intelligence with international partners, and U.K. intelligence has been directly responsible for arresting facilitators both in the U.K. and overseas,” said Hancock.