Police in France have detained 15 suspected members of an international migrant smuggling syndicate that assisted people in crossing the Channel illegally to Britain.
The announcement comes as tensions between London and Paris rise over the record number of migrants crossing the Channel, with Britain urging France to take tougher measures to prevent them from making the journey.
Police said in a late Monday statement that those arrested included Iraqi Kurds, Romanians, Pakistanis, and Vietnamese who approached migrants in camps in Grande-Synthe, near Dunkirk in northern France, and encouraged them to cross to England in small boats.
In an investigation that started in October 2020, French police said the network helped at a minimum 250 people per month cross to England, using small boats that transport up to 60 migrants at a time.
Passage to England would cost a migrant 6,000 euros ($6,800) and the smugglers racked up some 3 million euros ($3.4 million) in total profits, the illegal migration branch of the French police, OCRIEST, said in a statement.
“It was a network of hardened criminals who were well organized due to the complicity of drivers, secret financial backers and people who acted as lookouts for the police,” Xavier Delrieu, who led the investigation, told AFP.
The 15 were detained last week and around 40,000 euros ($45,000) in cash seized.
According to the French authorities, 31,500 people attempted to leave for Britain since the start of the year and 7,800 people have been rescued at sea, figures which doubled since August.
In Britain, the ruling right-wing Conservative party of Prime Minister Boris Johnson is coming under intense pressure, including from its own supporters, to reduce the numbers crossing.
According to British authorities, over 25,000 people have now arrived illegally across the Channel so far this year, already triple the figure recorded in 2020.
The issue has added to growing post-Brexit tensions between Britain and France, with a row on fishing rights also still unresolved.