Trafficker whose gang & # 39; more than 100 migrants & # 39; brought to Britain, is imprisoned in Spain for four years
The leader of a gang of human trafficking who accused desperate migrants of up to £ 8,500 each to smuggle them into the UK in the back of refrigerated trucks has been imprisoned in Spain for four years.
Shwana Rafiq, born in Iraq, endangered the lives of entire families by hiding them in trailers en route to Britain where temperatures never exceeded 40 ° C (4 ° C).
The 36-year-old was sentenced after admitting to playing a leading role in an international criminal gang that had a & # 39; large number & & # 39; Koerden smuggling operations.
The Spanish police believe that the Shwana gang was responsible for smuggling more than 100 people into the UK between 2017 and 2018, earning them up to £ 850,000.
Iraqi Shwana Rafiq (36) has been detained in Spain for four years after smuggling the Kurds to the UK behind refrigerated trucks. He was caught after six Iraqis, including four children, were hiding in a truck in Teruel, Spain in 2017 (right)
Unsuspecting truck drivers were targeted by having their trailer locks break into ferry ports or motorways so that migrants could be hidden inside.
Shwana & # 39; s modus operandi echoed some of the deadly tactics used by human smugglers for the death of 39 Vietnamese migrants found dead in a refrigerated truck in Essex last month.
He was imprisoned after concluding a pre-trial plea deal with prosecutors at a court in Teruel, east of Madrid.
Prosecutors had initially sought a 14-year prison sentence for the Spanish expat Shwana on charges of money laundering and human trafficking before he received a shorter sentence as part of a guilty plea.
His Spanish wife Esperanza Martinez, who was sentenced to 12 years 'imprisonment before admitting that he was his accomplice, was sentenced to two years' imprisonment for human trafficking suspended because she was the first offender.
Five other people associated with the human smuggling organization were given prison sentences ranging from six months to a year that would be suspended at a later date because they all have clean records in Spain.
They include a 39-year-old Iranian with a British passport identified as Rabeen Mohamad who was extradited from Switzerland to Spain for trial. He was also convicted of a human trafficking crime.
The police operation that resulted in court convictions, outlined in a 30-page & # 39; s conviction document released Tuesday after the plea agreements, was fueled by the discovery of six Iraqis in a truck in France in 2017.
The Iraqis, who were discovered in a UK-based refrigerated truck at a gas station near Teruel in central Spain, were members of the same family. Four were children.
They warned the unsuspecting truck driver of their plight by shouting for help for hours after being hidden in the trailer by Shwana when he broke into it and then locked it again.
The following month, eight Turkish and Iraqi migrants, including four children, were discovered in almost identical conditions in a second truck in the UK at the same location.
The Spanish police said after the arrest of three Rafiq's father in January 2018 that they believed that the human trafficking gang he led had smuggled more than 100 people to Britain in the last 12 months.
A description of the organization's methods, said a spokesperson for the Spanish National Police: “It consisted of the introduction of groups of six to eight people, mostly families with young children including babies only months old. , behind cooled trucks on the way to the UK.
Rafiq's gang accused desperate migrants of up to £ 8,500 each to be smuggled into the UK, and it is thought that they brought at least 100 people to this country between 2017 and 2018
& # 39; The members of the organization would try to obtain detailed information about the destination of the vehicles and while the driver & # 39; rested at night, people smuggling into the cargo hold without him realizing it.
& # 39; The normal duration of stay would be between 30 and 40 hours at temperatures of no more than four degrees Celsius.
& # 39; The gang was aware of the risks associated with this type of travel, and they acted with complete disregard for the lives and well-being of the people they tried to smuggle into Britain.
& # 39; Sometimes they even resorted to hitting those who had panic attacks while traveling or gave drugs to calm them down.
& # 39; The price charged to people would have increased significantly if they had requested the presence of a smuggler in the back of the truck to help them. & # 39;
Images released by the Spanish police showed an army of heavily armed officers outside one of the properties they raided, while someone shouted: & Open the door, we are the police, open it or we break it down. & # 39; and shouted & # 39; Get on the ground & # 39; while they were running inside.
Rafiq, who was sentenced to six months' imprisonment in France after he was caught trying to smuggle two Kurdish migrants to the UK in the trunk of a rental motor home, had the help of relatives in Britain according to the judges who imprison him.
It is not clear whether they too were arrested after the hard attack in Spain.
Chief Judge Fermin Hernandez Gironella said: & # 39; Their role would be to receive the migrants when they reach the UK and send the money related to the payment made by the migrants for the journeys they had made. & # 39;
The three sentencing judges added: & Given the low temperatures they were traveling in, which never exceeded four degrees Celsius, there was a clear risk to their lives and physical integrity, to the point that in some cases the migrants themselves had to sound the alarm so that they could be saved.
& # 39; The organization has organized and participated in a large number of illegal transfers of migrants and the financial benefits they have received would have been great.
& # 39; The criminal gang's activities consisted of transferring unauthorized migrants to different countries in Europe, but in particular for this organization to the UK. & # 39;
None of the migrants who paid to come to Britain took their own legal action against the human trafficking gang and many are suspected of having reached the UK after disappearing from Spain.
When the police arrested Rafiq, they found large amounts of cash. It is thought that he smuggled up to £ 850,000 between 2017 and 2018
Five other people in connection with the smuggling operation that Rafiq has carried out have also been imprisoned for a period of six months to a year (photo, police gather evidence)
Telephone cranes authorized by an investigating magistrate prior to police arrests showed that migrants interested in coming to England had to pay between £ 3,500 and £ 8,500 per person.
Shwana was bragged against a migrant who wanted to make the journey: & # 39; There is no week I don't send families. & # 39;
He told an accomplice in another recorded phone call that he had a & # 39; crisis situation & # 39; had resolved with another migrant he was trying to smuggle into the UK by hitting & # 39;
The judges concluded in their sentencing document: & # 39; Schwana performs leadership roles within the organization, which include directing and organizing the pick-up of the migrants and arranging their temporary stay in Spain and their clandestine transfer to the UK.
& # 39; The organization is fully aware of the risks that this type of journey involves with refrigerated trucks.
Schwana said the average time that migrants should spend in a truck is between 30 and 40 hours.
& # 39; The phone calls recorded showed that the UK was the most popular destination among Kurdish migrants, followed by Ireland. & # 39;
One of the trucks targeted by Schwana was from El Mosca, the Spanish transport company whose driver was interrogated by the Kent police after five migrants were filmed leaving a truck on the M25 at Dartford in October 2016.
Researchers in both countries concluded that truck drivers were victims of human smugglers and had no idea that their vehicles had been broken into.
The bodies of 39 Vietnamese migrants were found in the early hours of October 23 in a truck trailer on an industrial site in Grays, Essex.
The police confirmed earlier this month that they had ten teenagers, the youngest of which were two 15-year-old boys.
The truck driver, 25-year-old Maurice Robinson, has been accused of a series of violations, including 39 counts of manslaughter.
Eamon Harrison, 22, from Mayobridge, Co Down, is extradited to the UK after alleged delivery of the trailer in which the migrants were found in the Belgian port of Zeebrugge before traveling on to Britain.
Ronan Hughes and his younger brother Christopher, both from Co Armagh, are being sought by the police on suspicion of manslaughter and human trafficking.
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