Suspected members of a people-smuggling gang, responsible for transporting as many as 10,000 migrants from France into Britain, were arrested by authorities in France and the Netherlands, the European police agency said.
Nineteen of the 23 suspected gang members were arrested in France, while the other four were detained in the Netherlands, the agency said.
Authorities also seized firearms and vehicles during the operation, which uncovered a number of migrants who were then taken to safety, the agency said.
The criminal network is suspected of having facilitated the transportation of around 10 000 Afghan, Iranian, Iraqi-Kurdish and Syrian migrants from the French areas of Le Mans and Poitiers to the United Kingdom.
The migrants, who paid up to €7,000 (£5,900) each via an underground hawala bank system for the journey, were transported in life-threatening conditions, concealed in refrigerated and often, overcrowded lorries.
On Wednesday, Interpol announced it had arrested more than 200 suspected traffickers and migrant smugglers in December of last year, following a week-long crackdown across the Balkans.
About 3,000 officers from eight nations, including Albania, Bulgaria and Turkey, identified 2,000 migrants and rescued 89 victims of human trafficking found working in the sex industry, forced labour and forced begging, the agency said.
Equipment including 30 smuggling vessels, 200 inflatable boats and buoys, as well as 60kg of drugs and US$200,000 (£152,000) in cash were also confiscated, Interpol said.
“Organised crime groups prey on the vulnerable and help them cross borders illegally for hefty sums,” said Interpol’s secretary general, Jürgen Stock.
“For some, the relationship ends on arrival. But for others, it is only just the beginning of a bleak future of exploitation.”
The Europol and Interpol operations come amid renewed interest in migrants’ routes into the UK, after 39 Vietnamese nationals died in the back of a refrigerated lorry in October in Essex.
Fifty migrants were intercepted by British and French authorities on Wednesday as they attempted to cross the Channel. A further 11 were intercepted early on Thursday morning by French authorities; all but one had mild hypothermia.
Jakub Sobik of Anti-Slavery International said: “As long as we have existed, people have migrated in search of better opportunities for themselves and their families, and they should be able to do it in safety and dignity.
“The fact we have to even tackle criminal gangs smuggling people in refrigerated lorries is a result of our own restrictive immigration policies that push people into making such dangerous choices. It’s time to rethink our approach to this issue.” (Source: The Guardian)