200 Indian 'illegal immigrants' held in Belgium
Brussels-London (PTI): About 200 Indian illegal immigrants on their way to the UK were rounded up by Belgian police as they smashed a human trafficking ring arresting 15 people in pre-dawn raids around Brussels.
Claiming that they have broken up the "core" of the racket, prosecutors said some of the Indians had paid up to 15,500 pounds to be taken to Britain.
"This morning we executed a series of search warrants to intercept all the suspects. This operation proved this is happening on a large scale, because we found more than 200 illegal Indians," Tim De Wolf, an assistant prosecutor dealing with the case, was quoted as saying by the media.
The raids in 'safe houses' in and around Brussels were conducted after a year-long police investigation. Some 50 Indians were discovered hiding in a gurdwara in a suburb of Vilvorde, media reports said.
Police have arrested 15 suspects allegedly involved in people-smuggling. The ring was capable of smuggling thousands of people into the UK every year, de Wolf said.
"We think we found and identified 15 of the organisers of this smuggling of human beings," he said.
According to the BBC, the would-be migrants were mainly Indian men aged between 15 and 35, as well as some women and children.
Most of the migrants were from Punjab, de Wolf said.
They were being kept in miserable conditions while waiting to be taken on the final leg of their journey.
"We found 24 people crammed inside one windowless room, measuring around 12 sq metres," he said.
Two of those arrested were "the brains behind the trafficking operations in Belgium. They controlled a whole series of little groups, sometimes working together, sometimes competing against each other. We hope that we have broken up the core of the network," de Wolf said.
The arrests came within hours after British Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said the number of migrants allowed into the UK under the points system may have to be reduced because of the economic crisis.
Woolas told The Times that immigration became an "extremely thorny" subject if people were losing their jobs.
"It's been too easy to get into this country in the past and it's going to get harder," he said.
The BBC recently broadcast an undercover investigation that exposed a London-based criminal network which used fake passports, identity documents and human carriers to bring in illegal migrants, mostly from Punjab, into Britain.
Another recent investigation that set off alarm bells was a documentary titled 'Shores Far Away' by prominent Indian film maker Savyasaachi Jain, who documented the perils and pitfalls of Indians from Punjab who undertake the hazardous illegal journey to Europe with the help of people smugglers.