A crime gang trafficked more than 40 Syrian migrants into Britain via Dublin and Belfast in less than a month, the Belfast High Court heard on Monday.
Prosecutors said the group provided identity documents, booked flights and hotels and transport, and even supplied Covid certification paperwork as part of an international people-smuggling racket.
Details emerged yesterday as bail was refused to a pizza takeaway worker accused of acting as a “taxi driver” in the illicit operation.
Ahmad Omar was one of three men arrested earlier this month as the result of a UK Home Office investigation. 39-year-old Omar, with an address at Wolseley Street in Belfast, is charged with conspiracy to assist illegal immigration.
Crown lawyer David McNeill said members of the 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,” Mr McNeill 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.”
With regard to 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.”
It was contended that CCTV footage shows him dropping off passengers at the airport on three dates last November. Prosecution claims that cell site telephone evidence further connects Omar to the plot.
A mobile 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 10 March, when police seize almost £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. He travelled with his family to the UK in 2020, securing settled status and a job at a pizza takeaway in south Belfast.
Protesting his release 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 Omar denies any involvement in illegal immigration. He also insisted that his client’s alleged role was at the lowest level of the operation, compared to others suspected of booking hotels and flights. Mr Browne also claimed that the cash delivered at Omar’s home was actually life savings from his fast-food job.
He was, however, denied bail, with Lady Chief Justice Dame Siobhan Keegan ruling that mobile phone evidence needs to be clarified before she would consider any release.