'Europe's most wanted migrant smuggler' arrested after two-year manhunt for ‘trafficking 10,000 to the UK’

13 May 2024, 19:26 | Updated: 13 May 2024, 21:26

Barzan Kamal Majeed, known to Western media by the nickname 'Scorpion'.
Barzan Kamal Majeed, known to Western media by the nickname 'Scorpion'. Picture: National Crime Agency

By Christian Oliver

A mastermind human trafficker accused of smuggling an estimated 10,000 migrants across the English Channel has been arrested after a two-year manhunt.

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Barzan Kamal Majeed, known to Western media by the nickname 'Scorpion', was arrested in Iraq on Monday by Asayish - the Kurdistan region's security forces.

Majeed has been on the run since November 2022 after he failed to appear for his sentencing hearing at a Belgian court following his human trafficking conviction.

Following a request by Interpol, Majeed was arrested by Asayish who identified him only by his initials and so-called nickname 'Scorpion'.

"Following the launch of an investigation, Asayish forces, based on exchange of intel and upon the request of Interpol and as per a ruling by the judge, a great human trafficker and smuggler was arrested," the Kurdistan security forces told the region's broadcaster Rudaw Media.

Migrants are brought ashore at Dover Harbour by the RNLI Lifeboat after being rescued in the English Channel
Migrants are brought ashore at Dover Harbour by the RNLI Lifeboat after being rescued in the English Channel. Picture: Alamy

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The UK's National Crime Agency (NCA) has been working in coordination with Belgian officers to track down Majeed since a warrant for his arrest was issued in 2022.

Majeed previously worked as a mechanic in Nottingham before moving in 2013.

The convicted trafficker smuggled himself into the UK in the back of a lorry when he was 20, the BBC reported, before being deported in 2015 to the Kurdistan region of Northern Iraq following his conviction for drug and gun offences.

He then received a 10-year conviction for people smuggling at a Bruges court in 2022 and handed a 968,000 euro (£849,000) fine.

It comes three days after the BBC released a report detailing how one of its investigative teams tracked down Majeed - labelled "Europe's most wanted migrant-smuggler" - near the Iranian border and questioned him over his history as a trafficker.

The convicted smuggler admitted to being a part-running a people-smuggling gang in Belgium and France between 2016 and 2019.

He also said he was unable to confirm the number of people he had illegally transported across the English Channel, guessing that it was "maybe a thousand, maybe 10,000".

"I don't know, I didn't count," he said - adding that he was not at the helm of the operation and had instead been implicated by other gang members who were seeking to reduce her sentences.

"A couple of people, when they get arrested, they say: 'We're working for him'. They want to get less sentence," he said.

He also denied responsibility for the deaths of any migrants killed attempting to cross the Channel.

Majeed said he was just the "money man" who "took the money and booked places".

"I never put anybody in a boat and I never killed anybody. Nobody forced them," he said.

"They wanted to, they were begging the smugglers: 'Please, please do this for us'." 

Majeed's gang smuggled an estimated £6,000 per person for a boat crossing, the BBC reported.

He denies having any current involvement in the operation - but one of the investigative team claims he saw a mirror reflection in Majeed's phone showing passport numbers.

The investigation said smugglers bride Iraqi officials and send them the passport data to issue visas that then allow them to travel to Turkey.

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