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People smuggling raids: 19 men and two women released while inquiry continues

People smuggling raids
Image caption Police targeted about 20 properties in the North East and south of England

Twenty-one people arrested on suspicion of human trafficking have been released while inquiries continue.

More than 350 officers from the National Crime Agency (NCA) and police carried out the raids in Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, Stockton, Newcastle, Hastings and London on Tuesday.

The NCA said the probe was linked to suspected Kurdish gangsters.

Nineteen men and two women, ranging in age from 33 to 60, were arrested at 20 different addresses.

Five of those were also arrested on suspicion of money laundering.

The gang is suspected of charging up to £10,000 per head to smuggle migrants in the back of lorries across the Channel.

As well as residential properties, a number of car washes believed to be linked to money laundering were also raided.

Image caption All those arrested have been now been released while the inquiry continues

The NCA said most of the trafficked immigrants were Iraqi Kurds and they were mostly men but said some families had also been brought into Britain.

The operation followed a year-long investigation with links to the French, Belgian and Dutch authorities, the NCA said.

It said it was one of the biggest operations it had carried out since it started five years ago.

Seventeen people were arrested in the North East - one in Newcastle and the others in Stockton and Middlesbrough - while two more were arrested in Hastings and two in the London area, the NCA confirmed.

The operation followed a year-long investigation with links to the French, Belgian and Dutch authorities, the NCA said.

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