Dozens of people were arrested after several raids took place regarding an investigation into an international smuggling ring which saw the transportation of more than 1000 refugees from Afghan and Syria via specially modified vehicles.
Investigators discovered 110 of these vehicles and made 26 arrests in all.
One woman and a child were discovered in the back of a white transit van along with three men in a vehicle which had been fitted with a false wall.
The U.K. Home Office said the operation involved suspects who allegedly transported migrants, most of them from Syria and Afghanistan, into Britain mainly from eastern Europe.
Eleven were taken into custody in London, Birmingham and Gateshead on suspicion of assisting illegal immigration, while a further 15 were arrested in Belgium and Bulgaria.
Steve Dann, director of CFI, said: ‘People smuggling is a cruel and dangerous trade in which often vulnerable individuals are treated as commodities.
‘Many are passed into the hands of other criminal gangs who would seek to exploit them for modern slavery purposes – including labor exploitation and the illicit sex trade.
‘We have been working closely with law enforcement colleagues across Europe and that vital co-operation will continue as the investigation proceeds with the evidence we have seized today.’
The NCA’s Chris Hogben, deputy head of Project Invigor, the taskforce targeting smuggling networks, said: ‘Criminal gangs often facilitate the arrival of illegal migrants into the UK by exploiting their desperation without thought for safety and with the sole motive of profit.
‘We see this through migrants being sent across the channel in unseaworthy small boats or stuffed into the back of cramped lorries, vans, and cars.
‘This operation is a good example of how we can bring together law enforcement from across Europe to work together to take on that threat and disrupt the organized networks involved in people smuggling.’