Four arrested over small boat people smuggling Facebook ads

The NCA arrested four people on Monday who have since been charged [PA Media]

Three men and a woman have been arrested following an investigation into people smuggling.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) arrested the four people, all Vietnamese nationals, on Monday as part of a joint UK-French investigation.

It is alleged the group was involved in advertising small boats crossings into the UK on Facebook, targeting the Vietnamese community.

Migrants were allegedly charged thousands of pounds to make the trip.

The NCA said officers arrested a 34-year-old man in Leicester along with a 23-year-old woman in Croydon and a 64-year-old man at an address in Lewisham.

All three were charged with assisting unlawful immigration and are due to appear at Croydon Crown Court on 21 May.

The 64-year-old man allegedly acted as a driver, collecting migrants who arrived on small boats and bringing them back to the address in Croydon on at least one occasion, the National Crime Agency said.

Another man, aged 25, was also arrested at the Croydon address on a warrant issued by the French authorities and now faces extradition proceedings over allegations he was involved in people smuggling and drug offences.

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

A further 12 individuals have been arrested in Paris suspected of being linked to the same people smuggling network.

According to figures from the Home Office, so far this year Vietnamese people are the largest group by nationality trying to cross the Channel in small boats. The numbers show they made up 20% (1,266) of the 6,265 recorded arrivals between 1 January and 21 April.

Chris Farrimond, NCA Director of Threat Leadership, warned migrants who enter the UK "under these clandestine means" are "under increased risk of being forced into exploitation and debt bondage" by groups of people smugglers.

"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", he said.

"We allege this group was 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", he said.

Home Secretary James Cleverly said the government signed an agreement with Vietnam last week that will strengthen "our cooperation on illegal migration."

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