Gang trafficked Syrian migrants into Britain via Dublin, court hears

More than 40 migrants trafficked via Dublin and Belfast in less than a month, court told

A crime gang trafficked more than 40 Syrian migrants into Great Britain via Dublin and Belfast in less than a month, the high court in Belfast heard on Monday.

Prosecutors said the group supplied identity documents, booked flights and hotels and travel, and even provided Covid certification paperwork as part of an international people-smuggling racket.

Details emerged as bail was refused to a pizza takeaway worker accused of acting as a “taxi driver” in the operation.

Ahmad Omar was among three men arrested earlier this month during the UK Home Office investigation.

The 39-year-old, with an address at Wolseley Street in Belfast, is charged with conspiracy to assist illegal immigration.

Crown lawyer David McNeill said members of an organised crime gang facilitated Syrian nationals travelling from other European countries to Ireland, and then flying from Belfast to destinations in Britain.

“The allegation is that they provided identity documents, hotel accommodation, flight bookings and transport between different stations and airports, as well as Covid documentation,” he told the court.

“The total number of immigrants assisted by this OCG (organised crime gang) over a period of three weeks in November 2021 was 43.”

‘Taxi driver’

Setting out Omar’s alleged involvement, counsel claimed: “The defendant’s role was to act as a taxi driver, effectively, bringing the immigrants from somewhere in the Belfast area to Belfast International Airport and dropping them off.

"To do this he drove a black Nissan Juke registered in his name."

CCTV footage shows him dropping off passengers at the airport on three dates last November, it was contended.

According to the prosecution, cell site telephone evidence further connects Mr Omar to the plot.

A mobile phone seized from one of the migrants also allegedly revealed contact with the accused’s number, his profile photo and a WhatsApp referenced to “Belfast Ahmad Taxi”.

He was arrested on March 10th, when police also seized nearly £5,000 in cash and four phones from his home.

The court heard he left Syria in 2011, moving to Egypt and Libya, before being granted asylum and spending seven years in Sweden.

In 2020 he travelled with his family to the UK, securing settled status and a job at a pizza takeaway in south Belfast.

Opposing his bid to be released from custody, Mr McNeill argued: “The allegation is that he is a member of a gang which specialises in false identity documents and transporting people across borders illicitly.”

Defence barrister Jonathan Browne said Mr Omar denies any involvement in illegal immigration.

He also insisted his client’s alleged role was at the lowest level of the operation, compared with others suspected of booking flights and hotels.

The cash discovered at Mr Omar’s home represented life savings from his fast-food job, according to Mr Browne.

Denying bail, Lady Chief Justice Dame Siobhan Keegan ruled that mobile-phone evidence needed to be clarified before she would consider any release.