David Cameron vows greater efforts to 'smash' people smuggling gangs


British efforts to "smash" the gangs of people smugglers behind the migration crisis in Europe will be beefed up, David Cameron announced as he prepared to attend a major international summit on the issue. 

The Prime Minister will join leaders from Europe and Africa at the meeting in Valletta, Malta aimed at strengthening co-operation between the two continents to tackle the problem.

Mr Cameron said the UK would increase the scale of its organised immigration crime (OIC) taskforce and commit an extra £44 million to continue funding the unit until 2020.

The Prime Minister said: "While we must continue to do all we can to help those fleeing fear and persecution, we must also continue our efforts to break the link between setting off in a boat and achieving settlement in Europe.

"So as part of our comprehensive approach, it is absolutely right that we ensure this dedicated law enforcement team has the resources it needs to smash these human trafficking gangs and protect the UK from this threat."

The taskforce was set up in June to tackle the criminal gangs behind the migration crisis in the Mediterranean.

The team, involving officers from the National Crime Agency (NCA), Border Force, Immigration Enforcement and the Crown Prosecution Service, is tasked with pursuing and disrupting the operations of people smugglers paid by desperate migrants hoping to reach Europe.

Under the plans set out by Mr Cameron, the OIC team will be expanded from 90 to more than 100-strong, operating in the UK and 10 other countries, including in west, east and north Africa.

As part of the group's work, NCA officers have been deployed to Europol and the EU regional taskforce in Sicily - an intelligence cell focused on investigating people-smuggling networks.

The OIC has also set up a UK-based joint debriefing team responsible for quizzing migrants that arrive in the country to gather intelligence on the trafficking gangs.

The Prime Minister will visit the Royal Navy's HMS Bulwark in Valletta to thank her crew, and those of HMS Enterprise and HMS Richmond, for their work on search-and-rescue missions in the Mediterranean in the summer.

Crew from the three vessels helped save 8,000 lives during their operations.

The summit in Valletta comes after official European Union figures laid bare the scale of the migration crisis.

More than a million illegal crossings of European Union frontiers have occurred since January, according to the EU's border agency Frontex.

As well as discussions linked to the migration crisis, Mr Cameron will also hold talks with fellow EU leaders about his reform plans after setting out his demands in a letter to European Council president Donald Tusk.