French and Dutch police have arrested 23 suspected members of a criminal network that has smuggled as many as 10,000 migrants from France to Britain, according to the European police agency Europol.
The network was suspected of earning 70 million euros ($77.6 million) in profits by organizing illegal passages for migrants from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Iran, Europol said Thursday.
The migrants traveled to Britain from around the western French cities of Le Mans and Poitiers. Many of them faced life-threatening conditions, hidden in refrigerator trucks crossing the English Channel by ferry or undersea train. As many as 20 migrants were held in each truck and each paid as much as 7,000 euros ($7,760) for the crossing, Europol said.
A suspect in the Netherlands collected those payments via an underground banking system, Europol said. Police seized firearms and vehicles in five searches, and the migrants found during the operation were taken to safety.
Ton van Lierop, a spokesman for Eurojust, said most of the arrests were Tuesday in France.
The operation came amid renewed attention to migrants risking their lives in trucks trying to cross the Channel after 39 Vietnamese trying to enter Britain died in October in a refrigerated truck container.
The Associated Press contributed to this article