LONDON, Aug 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - European authorities have smashed a human trafficking gang smuggling Iranians, some as young as five, into Britain, making more than 100 arrests, the European police agency Europol said on Thursday.
Europol said the criminal network, operating from the southern Spanish city of Malaga, was charging migrants about 25,000 euros ($30,000) for fake Spanish passports, flights, transfers and accommodation.
After a year long investigation, Spanish police arrested 14 members of the group in Malaga and another 42 people accused of selling their Spanish documents to the gang.
Europol said another 44 Iranian citizens were intercepted at different European airports carrying forged passports while the leader of the group was arrested at London's Heathrow airport trying to take a flight to Brazil.
"The criminal group was perfectly structured and each member had a defined role, ranging from recruiting the irregular migrants in their country of origin, to facilitating the transfers, hosting them in safe houses in Spain, and supplying the travel documents," Europol said in a statement.
Britain's Home Office confirmed the arrests but declined to comment further as the investigation is ongoing.
Europol said the investigation began after seven Iranians were caught a year ago trying to catch a flight from Hamburg in Germany to Britain carrying forged and authentic passports, most of them Spanish.
Investigations revealed the flight tickets were bought through a travel agency in Malaga and further enquiries led to the discovery of a migrant smuggling network there.
Seven Iranians, including a 5-year-old child, were found during searches of safe houses in Spain.
The operation involved the Spanish National Police, Britain's Immigration Enforcement, the Portuguese Immigration and Borders Service (SEF), and Europol.
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(Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith @BeeGoldsmith, Editing by Sebastien Malo; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)