Published: 12:07, 05 May 2022
| Updated: 15:50, 05 May 2022
A man suspected of being the leading figure in a gang supplying small boats to people smugglers has been arrested.
Hewa Rahimpur, 29, was detained by the National Crime Agency at around 1pm yesterday.
Rahimpur is wanted by the authorities in Belgium, where he is suspected of being a leading figure in a network said by prosecutors to be engaged in "systematic human smuggling" offences using small boats.
Asylum seekers are constantly travelling in them to reach the UK from France and are often rescued by British authorities and initially brought to Dover.
The joint NCA-Belgian investigation follows the seizure of a number of boats and outboard motors, found by Belgian police in the back of a car near the Belgian-French border last October.
Rahimpur is accused of sourcing the boats in Turkey and having them delivered to locations in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. They would then be taken to the northern French coast, from where asylum seekers would be transported.
NCA officers worked alongside their Belgian colleagues to track Rahimpur down, locating him at his place of work in Romford Road, Manor Park, east London, where he was arrested.
Rahimpur is originally from Iran and lives in nearby Ilford.
He was due to appear before Westminster Magistrates today for the start of proceedings for extradition to the Continent.
Frank Demeester, from the prosecutors’ office of West Flanders, said: “Together with smuggling of human beings by refrigerated transport, smuggling of them by small boats is highest on our priority list.
“For us, this form is the ultimate threat to life, so we do everything possible to intervene as soon as possible. Every crossing that can be avoided is a potentially fatal crossing that has been foiled.
“The Belgian police and judiciary invest a lot of capacity in the fight against human smuggling, and we will continue to do so in co-operation with our partners in the neighbouring countries.”
The NCA stresses it continues to look at ways to disrupt the supply of vessels and marine equipment to people smuggling networks and target those who knowingly do so.
In March 2022 the agency reissued an appeal to the UK maritime industry to raise awareness of how they might be targeted by organised criminal gangs looking to source boats or equipment.
NCA Deputy Director of Organised Immigration Crime, Andrea Wilson, added: “One of the ways we are seeking to disrupt these people smuggling networks is through targeting their supply of boats.
“Some of the vessels we have seen attempting the Channel crossing have been nothing short of death-traps, held together using gaffer tape and planks of wood.
“Sadly, we have also seen how these crossings have resulted in fatalities, which is why tackling this criminality is a priority for the NCA and our law enforcement partners both in the UK and overseas.
“I would also re-iterate our appeal from earlier in the year to those involved in the maritime industry, both here in the UK and on the continent. Please be on alert, and if you have suspicions around the purchase of the kinds of items that can be used in these crossings, please report it.”
One of the worst cases of multiple deaths for asylum seekers trying to cross the Channel was last November 24 when 27 people died when their dinghy capsized off Calais.
Dangerous crossings continue in small craft relentlessly with 696 people picked up, in a total 20 vessels, from last Sunday to Tuesday.
Ministry of Defence figures show there were no crossings yesterday.
But analysis of government figures by the PA news agency shows 7,389 people have reached the UK after navigating busy shipping lanes from France in small boats since the start of 2022.
There has been a growing trend over the last four years of asylum seekers trying to reach this country by small vessels rather than the previously common methods of hiding in the backs of lorries coming over on ferries from the France.
There were 28,526 people detected arriving on small boats in 2021. This compares with 8,466 in 2020, 1,843 in 2019 and 299 in 2018, according to MoD statistics.
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