An Albanian criminal network involved in smuggling illegal immigrants to the UK via Spain has been dismantled according to the NCA.

Following a joint operation involving the National Crime Agency and Spanish Guardia Civil, seven Albanian Nationals were arrested.

The network facilitated primarily Albanian illegal immigrants through the northern cities of Bilbao and Santander into the UK using ferries and freight shipping routes such as Portsmouth, Southampton and Liverpool.

It was believed that illegal immigrants travelled directly from Albania to Spain for onward travel to the UK. They were also acquired from various camps located near Spanish ports.

Spanish prosecutors described the criminal network as ‘high level and well organised‘, the criminal gang would provide illegal immigrants with temporary accommodation and food until they successfully completed their journey to the UK.

Each illegal was believed to have paid between 3,000 – 15,000 euros to be smuggled from Spain to the UK.

The true number of illegal immigrants who used the route is unknown and we will most likely never know. Authorities from both Spain and the UK claim around fifty who made the crossing have been identified as having links to the criminal network.

NCA officers based in both Spain and the UK worked with the Guardia Civil for over a year to identify some of the ringleaders of the smuggling organisation.

Between the 3rd and 5th of October, seven arrests were made, two in Madrid and a further five in the Basque region.

Among those detained were two men believed to be the heads of the criminal network. The men spent most of their time in Albania but were arrested whilst they were in Spain.

All seven men will now face prosecution in the Spanish courts.

During the raids, which were supported by NCA officers based in Spain, investigators seized numerous items of interest, including telephones, computers, bank cards, cash, and receipts as well as several identity documents and passports of various nationalities.

NCA International Regional Manager Steve Reynolds said:

“People smugglers put lives at risk, which is why disrupting and dismantling criminal networks like this is a priority for the NCA and our partners.”

He went on to add:

“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 UK. The dangers of that are self-evident.”

“Working closely with our Spanish counterparts we have been able to dismantle their operation and prevent further lives being put at risk.”

“This operation demonstrates how the NCA is determined to take action against people smugglers at every step of the route towards the UK, including upstream in transit countries like Spain.”

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