LONDON, Oct 18 (Reuters) – A man who British police believe ran an operation involved in smuggling 10,000 people to the United Kingdom as part of a pan-European network has been jailed for 11 years in Belgium, Britain’s National Crime Agency said on Wednesday.
Hewa Rahimpur, 30, who was originally from Iran, ran the network from his home in Ilford, east London, from where he sourced small boats from Turkey and had them delivered to Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, the NCA said.
His network would then ship them to the northern French coast to smuggle migrants across the Channel to England.
The issue of asylum seekers arriving without permission in Britain is a major political issue, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s promise to “stop the boats” one of his priorities and the government involved in a legal dispute on whether it can send migrants to Rwanda.
Last year, a record 45,755 people arrived across the Channel and more than 25,000 have been detected this year.
The NCA said Rahimpur’s arrest triggered action and arrests across Europe, with 60 inflatable boats and hundreds of life jackets seized in Germany.
A UK court ordered his extradition to Belgium where prosecutors said his network had charged migrants between 3,000 pounds and 6,000 pounds ($3,660 and $7,320) to make the crossing.
Another 19 people were also convicted and given jail terms between 30 months and eight years.
“Hewa Rahimpur’s network was, at the time of his arrest, one of the most prolific criminal groups involved in small boat crossings, playing a part in transporting thousands of migrants to the UK,” said the NCA’s Deputy Director of Investigations Craig Turner. ($1 = 0.8201 pounds)
(Reporting by Michael Holden, editing by Elizabeth Piper)