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European police stage major raids against people smuggling

Police in five European countries launched a cross-border operation against people smuggling on Tuesday and made several arrests, German authorities said. Officers in Belgium, Britain, France and the Netherlands as well as Germany staged dawn raids with "hundreds of officers", said police in the northwestern German city of Osnabrueck, considered a major hub for the…

Police officers stand ready near Paris prefecture de police (police headquarters) on October 3, 2019 after four officers were killed in a knife attack. – A knife-wielding man working at police headquarters in central Paris went on a rampage on October 3, stabbing and killing four employees before himself being shot dead, officials said. (Photo by GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP)

Police in five European countries launched a cross-border operation against people smuggling on Tuesday and made several arrests, German authorities said.

Officers in Belgium, Britain, France and the Netherlands as well as Germany staged dawn raids with “hundreds of officers”, said police in the northwestern German city of Osnabrueck, considered a major hub for the networks.

“There were numerous searches and arrests in several states” in the operation coordinated by Europol and European Union judicial agency Eurojust, the German police said in a statement.

A spokesman declined to provide further details but said police would release more information in the course of the day.

Germany’s Der Spiegel reported that the operation targeted organised groups taking migrants to England.

It quoted Osnabrueck police as saying that the network had smuggled up to 10,000 people via the Channel in the last 12 to 18 months in a highly lucrative scheme.

Iraqi-Kurdish suspects were targeted in Osnabrueck, with several warehouses and private addresses being searched.

Special forces were deployed because the suspects were believed to be “armed and dangerous”, Spiegel reported.

The coordinated action with Britain comes amid growing tensions between London and the EU in the wake of Brexit. Ties are particularly strained with France over migration.

Now Britain has left the European Union, it no longer has a migrant returns treaty with the 27-nation bloc.

Britain has repeatedly accused the French authorities of not doing enough to stop the crossings.

Despite promises of more cooperation, the number of migrants seeking to cross the Channel from France to England surged in the first half of this year, according to the French interior ministry.

From January 1 to June 13, there were 777 attempted crossings involving 20,132 people, up 68 percent on the same period last year, it said.

In a controversial policy, the UK is planning to deport illegal migrants, including those who arrive across the Channel, to Rwanda under an agreement with the African nation.

However, the first flight last month was cancelled after a last-minute intervention by the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), a decision which enraged London.