By Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA
Three arrests have been made over a highly sophisticated Bolivian people smuggling operation that is believed to have abused the Common Travel Area.
Two men and a woman were arrested in south London on Tuesday morning on suspicion of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration, and are scheduled to be flown to Belfast for questioning.
The UK Home Office said it is believed that they were abusing the Common Travel Area between Dublin and Belfast, charging migrants thousands of pounds to be flown from Bolivia to Britain through Ireland.
Once smuggled into the country by the suspected organised crime group, most of the migrants are believed to have been working in the UK illegally.
On Tuesday morning, a 41-year-old man was arrested at an address in Camberwell, while a 38-year-old man and a 35-year-old woman were arrested at an address in Peckham.
They were arrested on the back of warrants executed as part of an investigation by Home Office officials from the Criminal and Financial Investigations (CFI) unit.
Two other individuals, a male and female, were located in the Peckham property and identified as illegal Bolivian migrants.
They are to be processed by the Immigration Compliance and Enforcement unit of the Home Office.
Around £1,500 in cash and two false IDs were also found at the same address.
British immigration minister Robert Jenrick said: “The public should be in no doubt of our determination to clamp down on those who violate our laws by exploiting people for their own financial gains.
“These individuals thought they were beyond the reach of the law – they were proved wrong.
“Today’s operation sends a clear message to people smugglers and those thinking about abusing our immigration laws: you will be caught and brought to justice swiftly.”
Assistant director from the CFI unit Tony Hilton said: “Thanks to the tireless efforts of our officers, we continue to investigate leads relentlessly and execute operations like this so that we can stop and arrest those profiting off abuse of our immigration system.”
Another individual associated with the investigation was arrested in September by immigration officers in Northern Ireland and was subsequently charged. He remains in custody.
The investigation involved collaboration between the British and Irish governments, who work closely through the Cross-Border Joint Agency Taskforce.
The Common Travel Area is a long-standing arrangement between the UK and Ireland which allows for the free movement of citizens between the two jurisdictions.