Police in Belgium and France arrested 26 suspected human smugglers of the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants in a refrigerated truck in Britain last year.
Migrants, 31 men and eight women, were found dead in a truck in an industrial zone east of London in October, sparking international outrage.
The truck driver has admitted the killing of the death but Tuesday’s arrest targeted a smuggling ring that allegedly arranged migrants’ trips.
Police conducted a series of raids around Brussels and Paris as part of an investigation that also involved British and Irish investigators.
In Belgium – where several victims lived before a fateful trip – police arrested 13 people, including 11 Vietnamese citizens.
“The network formed by smugglers is believed to have been transporting several dozen people every day for several months,” Belgian federal prosecutors said in a statement on Wednesday.
“This organization focuses on transporting refugees from Asia, particularly from Vietnam,” the statement continued.
Prosecutors suspect the gang arranged transportation of Vietnamese migrants into the container where they died.
Most of those arrested in France are also Vietnamese, according to investigative sources, AFP news agency reported.
Can human smuggling be stopped? (25:00)
Investigations have found that migrants who died were loaded onto trucks in northern France, and that the network continued operations even after the tragedy, charging 15,000 to 20,000 euros ($ 16,000-22,000) to cross from France to England.
Even coronavirus locking cannot stop gang smuggling, the source said.
This tragedy highlights the extraordinary danger migrants are willing to risk to reach Britain, with smugglers who pay up to $ 40,000 for this dangerous trip.
A post-mortem test found the victim died from lack of oxygen and heat, and one sent a moving text message to his family in Vietnam when he lay dying in a truck.
The victims came from poor rural areas in central Vietnam, a hotspot for people who want to take dangerous trips in the hope of finding opportunities for economic prosperity abroad.
Many are smuggled illegally through Russia or China, often abandoned because of the very large numbers for their traders and eventually work in marijuana farming or in nail salons.
The truck driver, Maurice Robinson from Northern Ireland, last month pleaded guilty to murder for 39 deaths.
Four other men were tried in London for the deaths, while another man, Ronan Hughes, faced extradition from Ireland to Britain on 39 counts of murder and one conspiracy to carry out illegal immigration.
Hughes was accused of organizing and controlling drivers in human trafficking operations.
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