Asylum seeker accused of running people-trafficking gang ‘that made £7m’

Asylum seeker accused of running people-trafficking gang ‘that made £7m’

Ian Johnston — The Independent Dec 4, 2015

Palestinian man who was trying to claim asylum in Britain has been accused of running a people-smuggling gang that allegedly made £7m trafficking up to 100 Syrians a day to western Europe.

Jawal Owda, 26, was one of 23 people held in a series of co-ordinated raids in the UK, Austria, Sweden and Greece on Wednesday after a European arrest warrant was issued by judicial authorities in Thessaloniki, Greece.

It is alleged he was the ringleader of a group that provided a “one-stop shop” for Syrians and others wishing to move to Europe, with transport, fake identities and accommodation included in the price.

Westminster Magistrates Court in London heard that Mr Owda was found with about £17,500 in cash when he was detained at an asylum seekers’ shelter in Liverpool.

Mr Owda is now facing extradition to Greece and was remanded in custody ahead of other court hearings planned for March and April next year. A bail hearing is planned for later this month.

Graham Roberts, National Crime Agency operations manager, said: “As a result of joint working with the Greek authorities, we have located and arrested a Palestinian man believed to be the head of a crime group responsible for smuggling about 100 Syrian migrants a day.”

Mr Owda claimed asylum in the UK after he was found by police at a lorry drop-off point in Surrey in 2014, the NCA said. He had previously moved from one European country to another. It was unclear whether any people were smuggled into the UK.

The EU law enforcement agency Europol, which helped to organise the arrest operations, said the gang was believed to have its “headquarters” in Greece “where migrants – either located in Turkey or on their way to Greece – would contact them for further assistance with their journeys to northern Europe”.

“All forms of assistance could be provided, ranging from transport and supplying forged travel documents to housing,” it said.

“The migrants paid the facilitators via money-transfer services or with cash. As well as communicating by mobile phone, the suspects attempted to keep a low profile and elude capture by making use of social media channels and online communication platforms.”

Of 23 suspects arrested on Wednesday, seven were held in Austria, 13 in Greece and two in Sweden as well as Mr Owda in the UK. They were mostly of Syrian or Greek origin, Europol said.

“The transport was generally carried out by Greek nationals, who were co-ordinated by an Albanian national. This individual was also identified as working in close co-operation with the alleged head of the organised crime group,” the agency added.

The gang has allegedly been active since 2013. Europol said it had accrued an estimated total of nearly €10m (£7m).

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