Judicial authorities in Belgium and France on Wednesday announced the arrests of 26 people suspected of taking part in a human trafficking network involved in the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants found in a refrigerated truck’s container in Britain last year.
A series of early morning raids took place simultaneously in Belgium and France on Tuesday as part of probes targeting the criminal network, the authorities said.
“That organization is notably suspected, in a case handled mainly by Britain, of having made possible a transport in a refrigerated truck, discovered on the night of 22 to 23 October 2019 by the British police in an industrial area in Grays,” the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office said in Brussels.
One inquiry was launched in France following the investigation into the deaths of the migrants.
Police investigating the case found the 31 male and eight female victims were all from Vietnam and ranged in age from 15 to 44.
The migrants died from a combination of a lack of oxygen and overheating in an enclosed space, police said at the time.
The victims came from impoverished villages in Vietnam and are believed to have paid smugglers to take them on the journey to better lives abroad.
Last month, the truck driver pleaded guilty to manslaughter at a London court.
In Belgium, the prosecutor’s office said the investigation established the route taken by the victims before they got into the truck and said some of them had stayed in Belgium before their departure.
Tuesday’s large police operation was organized with a trans-border investigation team coordinated by the EU crime agency Eurojust, which includes Belgium, France, the UK and Ireland.
The Paris Prosecutor’s Office said that the 13 people arrested in France are suspected of taking part in a criminal organization that had been housing and transporting several dozen migrants from Southeast Asia every day for several months.
Sixteen searches took place on Tuesday in the Brussels area, including in safe houses, leading to the arrest of 11 Vietnamese and two Moroccans. Five of them have been charged with migrant smuggling with aggravating circumstances, belonging to a criminal organization and forgery.
The EU Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol) said that 21 migrants were found during the raids.
“These criminal activities were particularly dangerous due to the life-threatening conditions of transportation,” Europol said. “The urgent operational actions were crucial to safeguard particularly vulnerable victims and to arrest suspects at a high risk of fleeing.”
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