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Iraqi people smuggler who sent thousands across English Channel tracked down by BBC

LONDON: A crime boss wanted in several countries for his role in the smuggling of an estimated 10,000 migrants across the English Channel has been tracked down, according to reports in the British media.

Iraqi Kurd Barzan Kamal Majeed, nicknamed “Scorpion” because of his WhatsApp avatar, had been missing since failing to appear in court in Belgium for a sentencing hearing in November 2022.

The UK’s National Crime Agency issued a warrant for his arrest that same year. Majeed had moved to the British city of Nottingham in 2013, but had been deported two years later.

A BBC report released on Friday revealed how the organization tracked Majeed down and carried an interview with the fugitive.

Rob Lawrie, a former soldier who now works with refugee support agencies, assisted the investigation, which tracked Majeed to his home in the Kurdistan city of Sulaymaniyah, close to the border with Iran.

During the interview, Majeed said he had lost count of the number of people he had helped smuggle and admitted that between 2016 and 2019 he was one of two people running a people-smuggling operation in Belgium and France.

However, he denied being the boss of the operation, adding: “A couple of people, when they get arrested, they say: ‘We’re working for him.’ They want to get less (of a) sentence.”

Majeed’s accomplice, Nzar Jabar Mohamad, was given a 10-year prison sentence at a British court in Oct. 2021 after admitting to attempting to bring 21 migrants into the UK.

He also denied culpability for the death of migrants who attempted the crossing, claiming he was merely a “money man” who “just took the money and booked places.” He added: “I never put anybody in a boat and I never killed anybody. Nobody forced them. They wanted to, they were begging the smugglers: ‘Please, please do this for us.’”

His profits from the operation, with some estimates putting the price of a crossing at £6,000 ($7,514) per person, enabled Majeed to purchase a villa in Marmaris in Turkiye, according to the local police

According to government figures, more than 9,000 migrants have crossed the English Channel in small boats so far this year, a 15-percent rise on the same period in 2022, which was a record-breaking year in which more than 45,700 migrants arrived.

In his interview with the BBC, Majeed claimed that some of his former co-smugglers were still operating today and that a few had even been granted British passports.

“In three days, one guy sent 170 or 180 people from Turkey to Italy, still holding a British passport. I want to go to some other country to do business. I can’t.”

Ann Lukowiak, a public prosecutor in Belgium who was part of the team that worked on convicting Scorpion, told the BBC she still hopes Majeed will be extradited from Iraq to face justice one day.

“It’s important to us to have sent the signal that you can’t do what you want,” she said. “We will eventually take him down.”

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