THE LEADER of a human trafficking gang that brought more than 100 migrants into the UK inside refrigerated lorries has been jailed for four years in Spain.
Iraqi-born Shwana Rafiq put the lives of whole families at risk by hiding them in freezing-cold trailers where temperatures were known to fall below 4°C.
The 36-year-old was sentenced after he admitted playing a lead role in an international criminal gang that organised operations involving the smuggling of Kurds into Britain and Ireland.
Spanish police believe Shwana’s gang were responsible for smuggling more than ‘100 people’ into the UK between 2017 and 2018, earning up to €1 million in the process.
He was jailed after striking a pre-trial plea bargain deal with prosecutors at a court in Teruel.
State prosecutors had initially been seeking a 14-year prison term for Spanish expat Shwana on charges of money laundering and human trafficking.
His Spanish wife, Esperanza Martinez, who was facing a prison sentence of up to 12 years before she admitted to being his accomplice, was handed a two-year jail term for human trafficking. This will be suspended as is common under Spanish law for first-time offenders condemned to under two-years jailtime.
Five other people linked to the people smuggling organisation were given prison sentences ranging from six months to a year.
The Spanish police operation was sparked by the discovery of six Iraqis in the back of a UK-bound refrigerated lorry at a service station near Teruel, central Spain. Four were children.
They alerted the unsuspecting lorry driver to their plight by screaming for help hours after being hidden in the trailer by Shwana when he broke into it and then locked it back up with them inside.
The following month eight Turkish and Iraqi migrants including four children were discovered in almost identical circumstances in a second UK-bound lorry near the same spot.
Describing the organisation’s methods, a Spanish National Police spokesman told the Daily Mail: “It consisted of the introduction of groups of between six and eight people, generally families with young children including babies just months old, in the back of refrigerated trucks bound for the UK.
“The members of the organisation would try to obtain detailed information about the destination of the vehicles and while the driver was resting overnight, smuggle people into the cargo hold without him realising.
“The normal length of stay would be between 30 and 40 hours at temperatures of no more than four degrees Celsius.
“The gang was conscious of the risks these sorts of journeys entailed, and they acted with complete disdain for the lives and wellbeing of the people they were trying to smuggle into Britain.
“At times they even resorted to hitting those who had panic attacks while they were travelling or giving them drugs to calm them down.
“The price people were charged increased considerably if they requested the presence of a smuggler inside the back of the lorry to help them.”
The three sentencing judges at the Teruel court said: “Given the low temperatures they travelled in, which were never above four degrees Celsius, there was a clear risk to their life and physical integrity, to the point that in some cases the migrants themselves had to raise the alarm so they could be rescued.
“The organisation has organised and participated in a large number of illegal transfers of migrants and the financial benefits they have obtained would have been high.
“The activities carried out by the criminal gang consisted of transferring unauthorised migrants to different countries in Europe but in the case of this organisation especially, to the United Kingdom.”