Four arrested in UK in joint NCA-French operation targeting alleged Vietnamese Facebook people smugglers

26 Apr 2024 11:15 AM

Four Vietnamese nationals have been arrested by the National Crime Agency in Deptford, Croydon and Leicester as part of a major joint UK-French investigation into alleged small boats people smugglers advertising crossings on Facebook.

NCA officers arrested a 23-year-old woman at an address in Heathfield Road, Croydon and a 64-year-old man at an address in Abinger Grove, London on Monday morning. A man aged 34 was arrested in Grasmere Street, Leicester.

They were arrested on suspicion of assisting unlawful immigration and questioned by NCA officers. They were charged and appeared at Croydon Magistrates Court on Tuesday (23 April).

A fourth individual, a 25-year-old man, was also arrested by the NCA at the address in Croydon on a warrant issued by the French authorities, who allege he was involved in people smuggling and drug offences. He will now face extradition proceedings.

Investigators allege the group were involved in advertising illegal immigration into the UK in social media posts aimed at the Vietnamese community, charging migrants thousands of pounds to make the crossing.

The 64-year-old residing in London is believed to have acted as a driver, collecting migrants who arrived on small boats and on at least one occasion bringing them back to the Croydon address.

At the same time in France, another 12 individuals have been arrested in the Paris area, suspected of being linked to the same people smuggling network.

The arrests, which happened on 22 April, can only be reported now due to French legal restrictions being lifted.

NCA Director of Threat Leadership Chris Farrimond said:

“People smuggling via small boats is extremely dangerous and the safety of those making the journey is of no concern for criminal groups who are exploiting them for profit.

“As well the high-risk method of transport, entering under these clandestine means automatically puts these people under increased risk of being forced into exploitation and debt bondage by these groups. Migrants are often sold a dream of a better life and access to well-paid employment in the UK but this is not the reality.

“Vietnamese nationals now make up a large number of those we see arriving on small boats. We allege this group were advertising their crossing services on social media to encourage others from their country to make the same treacherous journey.

“The NCA is continuing our work with partners and has had thousands of social media pages and posts advertising organised immigration crime services removed from platforms.

“These arrests were possible thanks to our close working with the CPS and the French authorities who have arrested a number of people they believe are linked to this group in France.

“Tackling organised immigration crime is a priority for the National Crime Agency and our investigation continues to target people smugglers both in the UK and overseas at every step of the route.”

Home Secretary James Cleverly said:

“We are using every possible lever at our disposal to crack down on people smugglers and break their supply chains. Just last week, we signed a new agreement with Vietnam, strengthening our cooperation on illegal migration.

“Together with law enforcement agencies such as the NCA, our French partners, and other countries like Vietnam, we are committed to dismantling the criminal gangs who are trying to turn a profit by abusing our borders.

“This operation is a prime example of that partnership working in action.”