North Tyneside man arrested on suspicion of Albanian people smuggling after Home Office raid

A man has been arrested as part of an investigation into a suspected North East people smuggling operation.

The man, who is 40 years old, was arrested during dawn raids by Home Office teams and is the fourth man from the region to be arrested in connection with suspected criminal activity targeting UK Channel ports.

The man was detained on suspicion of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration by the Home Office's Criminal and Financial Investigation unit.

Stuart Stokes, assistant director from the Criminal and Financial Investigation unit, told ITV News Tyne Tees: "In the first incident, the Albanian nationals were found sitting as passengers in a car.

"They were stopped at the juxtaposed controls and prevented from entering the UK. They were handed over to the French authorities and the driver arrested. On a second occasion Albanian nationals were found concealed in a boot of another car.

"This investigation is centred around the North East. Our inquiries aim to establish how wide the network is operating across the UK."

Immigration Officers prepare for raid Credit: ITV News

Three of the four individuals had previously been stopped and questioned at the UK-France border by Border Force officials after allegedly attempting to bring Albanian nationals through immigration controls.

The suspect arrested on Thursday 26 January was placed in custody following his arrest and transported to Northumbria Police Headquarters in Wallsend, where further inquiries will be made.

So far, 140 people have been convicted following the introduction of a new law, passed in June, which made it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK illegally. Under the same law, anyone who facilitates illegal entries can now face a life sentence.

Mobile phones seized at property Credit: ITV News

Home Office statistics suggest Albanian nationals made up the majority of small boat arrivals from January to September 2022. Some 11,241 Albanians crossed the Channel during this period.

One academic told ITV News Tyne Tees, Albanians in particular are migrating to the UK because of several factors, but one of the main reasons is a lack of job opportunities back home and high rates of poverty.

Dr Andi Hoxhaj, from University College London, said: "There’s been a lot of advertisement that there are a lot of jobs in the UK and therefore in those countries that have poverties, and in Albania the poverty is quite high, it’s about 33 per cent would want to come as economic migrants.

"Having said that, the latest hostile environment, as well as the rhetoric around Albanians, people are being put at harm's risk."

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