BRUSSELS, Sep 19 (Reuters) Belgian prosecutors detained 16 people suspected of trafficking Indian illegal immigrants destined for Britain, the assistant prosecutor on the case said today.
Forty-six illegal immigrants, smuggled into Belgium and kept in safe houses ahead of transit to Britain, were also detained in raids carried out overnight in and around Brussels.
Belgian justice services said they believed the suspects were part of a larger trafficking ring.
''They (the immigrants) don't just arrive in Brussels. Someone else has been taking care of them and there could be lots of organisations involved,'' assistant prosecutor Tim De Wolf told Reuters by telephone.
Prosecutors raided 11 addresses across Brussels where an Indian organisation had been harbouring the immigrants. Seven Indian nationals and one Bulgarian were detained on charges of human trafficking and 30 immigrants were found.
A second organisation, of largely Iraqi Kurds, had placed the immigrants in parking lots on the outskirts of Brussels where lorries would pick them up and take them on the last leg of their journey to Britain.
Police, who have been working closely with their British counterparts, raided the parking lots where they had previously intercepted many illegal immigrants and detained seven Iraqi Kurds and one Belgian woman.
''We also found at one parking lot outside the city 16 illegal immigrants hiding in the bushes,'' said De Wolf.
The suspects will face an investigating judge who decides whether they should remain in custody until their case comes to trial.
Under Belgian law, people found guilty of human trafficking face jail terms of up to 10 years.
The fate of the 46 Indians will be determined by Belgium's department for foreigners.
REUTERS SG PM1745